If ever there was a time for parents and the American public to turn against public schools, you’d think this would be it. But two recent polls show it hasn’t happened.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted schooling for a year and a half, forcing children to learn online. Schools have been under relentless attack for requiring masks and teaching about racism. State legislators have bashed public schools as they pushed to expand school choice.
But the polls, by PDK International and Education Next, show continued strong support for and satisfaction with local public schools, both from parents and the public. This continues a longstanding trend in which respondents are critical of the nation’s schools but give local schools high marks.
PDK International, also known as Phi Delta Kappa, is an organization of educators that tends to favor public schools. Education Next, a journal committed to “bold change,” tends to be critical of public schools. Both polls, conducted in May, June and July, produced similar findings.
In the PDK poll, 63% of parents and 54% of adults gave their local schools a grade of A or B for how they responded to the pandemic. Two-thirds of parents and the public gave local teachers an A or B
“The results offer a rare glimmer of hope at a difficult time,” Joshua Starr, CEO of PDK International, said in a news release. “Not only have the nation’s educators persevered through the hardest school year in memory, but according to our findings, most Americans — especially parents with children in the public schools — remain confident in their local schools’ ability to provide effective instruction and leadership.”
In a finding that has been consistent for the over 50 years of the PDK poll, people rated their local public schools considerably higher than the nation’s public schools, and the highest ratings came from parents.
In the Education Next poll, 78% of parents were somewhat or very satisfied with the way their children’s schools performed, up 5 percentage points from the previous year. “It appears that a large majority of parents continue to believe that their children’s schools are doing the best they can under extremely adverse circumstances,” the poll’s authors write.
Among all adults, 55% gave their local public schools a grade of A or B, according to Education Next, while 23% gave the nation’s public schools an A or B. Some 60% of Hispanic respondents and 46% of Black respondents gave their local public schools an A or B; those figures are up more than 20 percentage points since 2008.
Education Next also found declining support for school choice. Public support for charter schools dropped seven points to 41%; support for universal vouchers fell 10 points to 45%. Support also declined for more school spending and free college but increased for publicly funded preschool.
“The public seems tired of disruption, change, and uncertainty,” the authors write. “Enthusiasm for most, perhaps all, policy innovations has waned.”