There is a paradox present in the public perceptions of the schools in the United States. For years I have seen this same result in the annual Gallup poll on American public K-12 education. A paraphrase of one question reads, “Overall, how satisfied are you with the quality of K-12 education in the U.S. today?”
In the latest poll (which is very similar to poll results for each of the last ten years), only 45 percent of those polled expressed some level of satisfaction with the quality of America’s public schools. The majority, or 54 percent, indicated dissatisfaction.
At the same time for each of the last 17 years, people were polled with a similar question, but one with a distinct difference. Parents were asked, “How satisfied are you with the quality of education your oldest child is receiving?”
Overwhelmingly, parents expressed satisfaction with the quality of the local school system their child is attending. A dominant 76 percent of parents said they were either completely satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the educational quality of their child’s K-12 school. Only 18 percent expressed dissatisfaction.
And these results were very similar to the results recorded fifteen years earlier in 2000 and with little deviation throughout the intervening years.
If this polling truly represents the length and breadth of our great nation, then the two numbers should be similar and not polar opposites. Gallup is among the best in the business. I trust their poll numbers. On a school-by-school basis, our American public is pleased with public school quality. The difference in the polling tells me there is a perception problem.
People know their local schools from first-hand experience. However, the only way the average person can know our nation’s schools is by what they read and hear from national news, politicians, and pundits.
Let us cut through the phony criticism. Americans like their schools. They regard the schools as providing quality education to their children.This is an opportunity to celebrate and demonstrate our optimism for public schools. In business the customer is always right. For America’s schools, their customers support the work they are doing.