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Public Schools Get Highest Ratings in 30 Years

Public Schools Get Highest Ratings in 30 Years

by Alec Gallup


PRINCETON, NJ -- The just released 2001 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup survey, "The Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools," shows that Americans give the public schools in their communities the highest ratings in the 30-year history of this annual poll. For the first time, a majority (51%) of the American public assigns an A or B grade to their local schools. In 2000, the comparable figure was 47%. More than eight in 10 (81%) award these schools at least a C -- also a record high.

In addition, 62% of parents of students in the local public schools assign either an A or B to these schools, the highest number since 1974 and five points higher than in 2000.

Grading the Local Public Schools:
Year 2001
Grading the Nation's Public Schools:
Year 2001

As has historically been the case in these Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup polls, an even higher percentage of parents think that the school attended by their own children deserves an A or B. This year, 68% of parents assign an A or B to the school attended by their (oldest) child -- about the same percentage as in previous years.

Again, as in all these surveys, a much smaller percentage of the American public, in this instance 23%, give the nation's public schools, collectively, A or B grades. Also, roughly the same percentage of public school parents (25%) assign an A or B to the nation's public schools. Since the public and public school parents are unlikely to have had any direct experience with or knowledge about the public schools outside their own communities, these low scores are presumably the result of negative coverage by the national media.

The graph below reveals a dramatic pattern of change over the years. From 1974 to 1983, the year "A Nation at Risk" about the so-called crisis in public education was published, the percentage of the public giving A or B grades to their local public schools declined from 48% to 31%. Similarly, among public school parents, the percentage assigning an A or B declined from 48% to 31%.

Trend: The Public Grades the Public Schools, Locally and in the Nation; Parents Grade the Public School Attended by Their Oldest Child

From the low-point of 1983 to the present, however, the percentage of the public awarding their local schools an A or B has been on a steady rise -- from 31% to 51% today. The percentage of public school parents assigning an A or B shows an identical 20-point increase from 42% to 62% over this period.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,108 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 23-Jun. 6, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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