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.

Public Opinion Strategies