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The Seven Most Surprising Findings of the 2012 PDK/Gallup Poll on Public Schools

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By William J. Bushaw, Ph.D., Executive Director of PDK International

As co-director of the PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, I anxiously await the results each year. It never fails. I am always surprised by what Americans think about their public schools — and this year is no different. So here you are — the seven most surprising findings of the 2012 PDK/Gallup poll. (For a free copy of the full report, go to www.pdkpoll.org or download the free Phi Delta Kappan iPad app.)

  1. There is lukewarm support for evaluating teachers using students' test scores. Only 52% of Americans favor teacher evaluations that include how well a teacher's students perform on standardized tests. Many policy makers and teachers know that we do not have the tools necessary to create a thoughtful teacher evaluation system that relies on student test results, and it looks like the public agrees, despite the attention this has received. My prediction: Look for an increasing percentage of Americans to oppose this in the future.

  2. Vouchers are up; charters are down. Support for public charter schools has increased every year in the last decade, so I was surprised when a lower percentage of Americans supported charter schools this year. It's only a three-point drop, but it's worth watching. And that's not the real surprise! This year, we saw a 10-point increase in Americans' support of private school vouchers, moving from only 34% in favor last year to 44% this year.

  3. Parents' love affair with their local schools continues. Gallup conducts many polls each year, including a poll that measures confidence in American institutions. The military is typically ranked at the top, U.S. Congress is at the bottom, and public schools fall somewhere in the middle. This year, confidence in public schools declined by five percentage points . . . but someone forgot to tell America's parents. We've asked parents to grade the school their oldest child attends for over 20 years, and the grades continue to go up. This year, 77% of America's parents gave their school a letter grade of either "A" or "B." What's the surest way to increase support for public education? Insist that more Americans have children.

  4. Entry into teacher prep programs should be as selective as pre-medicine. Americans respect, even revere, medical doctors, so I found it surprising that 33% of Americans said entry into college teacher preparation programs should be more selective than pre-med programs. (Only 24% said it should be less selective, and 42% said at least the same level of selectivity.) And this opinion is the same for pre-law, business, and engineering programs. Americans get it: Great schools require great teachers. We have a green light. Let's actively recruit, carefully select, and thoughtfully prepare the next generation of teachers.

  5. Support for urban schools is increasing. Urban schools get lots of attention, and generally not in a good way. That's why I was surprised that Americans understand how important it is to improve our nation's urban schools, with 97% saying it's very or fairly important. Not only that, 67% of Americans said they would be willing to pay more taxes to support urban schools, and we know how much everyone likes to pay more taxes.

  6. Newsflash: We don't think high school graduates are ready for college — or work. Only 33% of Americans strongly or fairly strongly agree that high school graduates are ready for college, 43% aren't sure, and 24% say they're not ready. These opinions are even less positive when we asked Americans if high school graduates are ready for work. Americans strongly support President Obama's belief that all high school graduates should be college- and career-ready. Clearly, they think we have a way to go in accomplishing that.

  7. Americans support parent trigger laws. Based on years of poll data, we know that Americans trust and respect the teachers in our public schools. That's why I was surprised by the response to a new question we asked about the "parent trigger" laws. California and other states have enacted legislation allowing parents to petition to remove the leadership and staff at failing schools. When we asked Americans if they favor or oppose such laws in their own state, 70% indicated their support. "Won't Back Down," a movie that will be released in September, is a fictional portrayal of the parent trigger law in action. Given our somewhat surprising results, it will be interesting to watch the public's reaction to the movie and its popularity in the theaters.

That's it — my seven most surprising findings. What surprises did you find in the data? Check out the 2012 results at www.pdkpoll.org or download the free Phi Delta Kappan iPad app and then share your thoughts here.

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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