Phi Delta Kappa poll: Public gives mixed messages on national standards
By Jim Hull
The American public gives similar grades to their local schools and schools in Europe and Asia, according to The 40th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward Public Schools.
They do not, however, grade schools that are outside their own community as high, nor do they grade them as high as they do schools in Europe and Asia.
Almost half of those polled (46 percent) give public schools in their own community an A or B, while only 16 percent give their schools a D or failing mark.
The public’s view of schools around the country is not as positive but is improving. Twenty-two percent give the nation’s public schools an A or B (up from 16 percent last year), while 18 percent give them a D or failing grade, which is down from 23 percent in 2007.
The big picture
The public gave European and Asian schools grades similar to the ones they gave schools in their own communities. Forty-eight percent gave European schools an A or B, 52 percent gave Asian schools the same grades, while 46 percent gave A’s or B’s to the schools in their own communities.
Compared to other developed countries, the majority of Americans believe U.S. schools rank near the middle of the pack in math and science, reading and writing, and creativity and problem solving.
The percent of adults who feel a lack of school funding is the biggest problem facing public schools dropped from 22 percent to 17 percent in the past year despite the downturn in the economy.
However, funding is still the public’s greatest concern and is ranked above discipline, overcrowding, fighting, drugs, good teachers, and standards.
A greater percentage of the American public believe Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats would do a better job of strengthen public schools than John McCain and the Republicans.
Three out of four adults (77 percent) believe the next president should rely mostly on education leaders for advice on improving education instead of business leaders (14 percent) or politicians (4 percent).
Although a greater proportion of the public think the best way to finance public education is through federal taxes, they prefer local school boards (46 percent) to have the greatest influence over what is taught in schools rather than state policymakers (30 percent) or federal officials (20 percent).
The public is divided on whether standards should be set by their own state or at the national level: 46 percent prefer state standards and 50 percent favor national standards.
A majority (62 percent) believes that if national standards are set, they should be developed by state leaders working together rather than by the U.S. Department of Education (22 percent) or a federally appointed panel (10 percent).
However, when the phrase “common expectations” is used instead of “national standards,” nearly two-thirds (62 percent) prefer one set of common expectations for students across all states compared to 36 percent who prefer that each state set their own common expectations.
Sixty-three percent, nevertheless, say they are satisfied with their own state’s standards.
Perceptions of NCLB
In the latest poll, a similar percentage of people have a favorable view (32 percent) of NCLB as unfavorable (33 percent). In 2007, 40 percent had an unfavorable view of NCLB.
More than 40 percent of the public believe the next president should change the No Child Left Behind Act significantly, while a quarter would like to see the law expire. Sixteen percent would like to see NCLB extended without change.
The respondents are split on whether they believe NCLB is hurting or helping local public schools (22 percent and 25 percent respectively), while 41 percent feel it is making no difference.
The vast majority (80 percent) would prefer that schools be judged by growth in students’ achievement rather than by the simple percent of students who score at or above proficiency on their state assessment.
A greater number of public school parents believe that examples of student work (36 percent) and teacher observations (24 percent) are more accurate measures of student achievement than test scores (20 percent) or teacher grades (15 percent).
Implications for boards
The American public still gives high grades to their local schools but sees a need for improvement in schools around the country. This may explain why most people prefer one common set of expectations across the country even though they are satisfied with their own state’s standards.
Although the public is ambivalent about national standards, it is clear most people would like to see significant changes to NCLB. There appears to be strong support for growth models, for example.
That would not only provide a more accurate measure of success but would also give teachers and administrators a wealth of information about which students are making the most progress in which programs.
However, this important information is useful only if it is provided to teachers and administrators in a clear, easy-to-use fashion.
Many districts across the nation have provided their teachers and administrators with software that can be used to easily access the information they need to make the best decisions possible for their students. Although school budgets are tight, school board members may find the investment in such software invaluable.
Jim Hull is an education policy analyst with NSBA’s Center for Public Education. For more analyses on education, visit www. centerforpubliceducation.org.
Reproduced with permission from School Board News. Copyright © 2008, National School Boards Association. Opinions expressed in this newspaper do not necessarily reflect positions of NSBA. This article may be printed out and photocopied for individual or educational use, provided this copyright notice appears on each copy. This article may not be otherwise transmitted or reproduced in print or electronic form without the consent of the Publisher. For more information, call (703) 838-6789.