Public Education Update

With students across the country heading back to school, it seems like an appropriate time to update some past posts I’ve written on public education.

Earlier this summer, Gallup* released its annual report on confidence in public institutions.  I first examined this data as it relates to public schools back in 2013.  The latest data shows little change in Americans’ attitudes, with only 29% of adults saying they have confidence in public schools.  More than twice as many (69%) admit they have just some or very little confidence in public schools.

These pessimistic views cut across all demographic subgroups:

Public schools are not the only institution with waning public confidence.  Of the 15 institutions tested on the Gallup survey, just three earn the confidence of a majority of Americans: the military (73%), small business (68%) and the police (53%).  Public schools rate near the middle of the pack.

Recent data from Pew* underscores these concerns about the state of public education:

  • Three-quarters of adults (77%) say they are worried about the ability of public schools to provide a quality education (40% very, 37% fairly). Once again, concern cuts across the political spectrum, with equal numbers of Democrats (38%) and Republicans (41%) describing themselves as “very worried” about this issue.
  • And, looking ahead, just 38% believe the public education system will improve by 2050, compared to half (52%) who believe it will get worse. This represents a significant shift in views over the 20+ years Pew has been tracking this question:

However, adults do differentiate between their local public schools and schools nationally.  When asked to grade schools on a traditional A-F scale, the latest data from PDK’s annual education survey** show a significant gap in adults’ perceptions.  Forty-four percent (44%) rate their community’s schools an A or B, compared to just 19% who give the same rating to the nation’s schools.  Grades are even higher among K-12 parents, with three-quarters (76%) giving their child’s school an A or B grade.

It is clear that public education is an issue of importance to most Americans.  In a recent UChicago Harris/AP-NORC Poll, respondents were asked to rate how important a range of different items are when deciding where to live.  Having high-quality public schools tops the list, with 59% describing it as an extremely important (28%) or very important (31%) attribute (21% moderately important, 19% not important).


* Data from a Gallup national survey of N=1,015 adults.  Interviews were conducted June 3-16, 2019.

^ Data from a Pew American Trends Panel survey of N=2,524 adults.  Interviews were conducted December 11-23, 2018.

** Data from the PDK Poll of Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.  Interviews were conducted April 12-27, 2019 among N=2,389 adults, including oversamples of parents of school-age children and public school teachers.  The survey was conducted in English and Spanish via the Ipsos KnowledgePanel. 

+ Data from the Associated Press/University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy survey of N=1,010 adults.  Interviews were conducted January 16-20, 2019.

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