Reflecting the economic uncertainty of recent years, the survey finds a preference away from high-level academics and toward classes focused on work skills.
In a year marked by so many divisions, the newest PDK poll on education shows that Americans don’t agree on the most basic question about the very purpose of a public school education. Is it to prepare students for work? To prepare them for citizenship? Or to prepare them academically?
Less than half (45%) of adult Americans say preparing students academically is the main goal of a public school education, and just one-third feel that way strongly.
Other Americans split between saying the main purpose of public schools is to prepare students for work (25%) and for citizenship (26%).
Differing views of the overarching purpose of public education influence attitudes toward public schools more broadly.
Local schools are better rated by those focused on academics, for example, and do less well among those who see their chief aim as preparing students for work.
“There’s a real question today about education’s return on investment. While we know that a college degree is essential in today’s economy, parents and the public want to see a clearer connection between the public school system and the world of work. Policy makers and leaders need to understand what their publics want from their schools,” said Joshua P. Starr, CEO of PDK International.
These findings come as part of the 48th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, which queried American adults on a range of challenges facing schools and communities, including educational goals, standards, priorities, and funding.
The survey is based on a random, representative, 50-state sample of 1,221 adults interviewed by cell or landline telephone, in English or Spanish, in April and May 2016.
Other major findings of the 2016 poll include:
- Parents who give A’s and B’s to their local schools report that the schools communicate more effectively with them, give them frequent opportunities to visit and offer input, and are interested in what they have to say.
- By the most lopsided result in the survey, the public by 84% to 14% says that when a public school has been failing for several years, the best response is to keep the school open and try to improve it rather than closing the school. But if a failing school is kept open, then, by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans say replacing administrators and teachers is preferable to giving the school more resources and support staff.
- A majority of Americans opposes (59% to 37%) allowing public school parents to excuse their children from taking standardized tests. Opposition from blacks is even greater, at 67% opposed.
- Most public school parents (56%) say that new standards are changing what’s being taught in their child’s school, although one-third says there has been no change.
- For the 15th consecutive year, Americans say lack of funding is the No. 1 problem confronting local schools.
- More Americans support (53%) than oppose (45%) raising property taxes to improve public schools, but there is broad skepticism (47%) that higher spending would result in school improvements. If taxes are raised, there’s little consensus on how the money should best be spent. A plurality (34%) says it should go to teachers but divides on whether that means more teachers or higher teacher pay.
The survey’s results overall provide essential insights for educators, policy makers, parents, and the public at large.
In addition to delving into attitudes and ratings on key issues, the results dig deeper into underlying sentiments and views among varying population groups.
They also reveal strategies for winning greater support for public education in terms of funding and parental engagement alike — key factors in efforts to keep public education vital, effective, and responsive to the concerns of parents and the public.