What a difference a year DOESN’T make – confidence in America’s public schools remains near record lows.

Last spring I examined Gallup’s extensive trend data regarding Americans’ perceptions of public schools, which revealed the lowest confidence levels recorded since this question was first asked in 1973. While confidence ticked up a few points on the most recent survey (June 2013), just one-in-three (32{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) adults say they have a great deal of confidence or quite a lot of confidence in the country’s public schools. Twice as many (66{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) admit they have just some or very little confidence.

May Charts

The April 2014 NBC/Wall Street Journal survey included a very similar question, asking respondents to rate confidence in public schools on a five point scale. Like the Gallup data, just 29{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans said they have either “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence in public schools.

Table 1

Looking more closely at some key demographic subgroups:

  •  Women (33{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} great deal/quite a bit) and younger adults (34{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) express higher levels of confidence in the public education system. Younger women are among the most supportive subgroups, with 37{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} describing themselves as having either “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence in the institution.
  • Four-in-ten (41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) African Americans are confident, compared to just 28{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of white adults and 27{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Hispanic adults.
  • Significant differences emerge by party, with confidence 20 points higher among Democrats (39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than Republicans (19{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}). One-quarter (24{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of Independents say they are confident. Fully, 41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Republicans say they have “very little” or “no confidence at all” in public schools (21{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} among Democrats, 34{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} among Independents).
  • Parents (31{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) view public schools similarly to adults overall.


Table 2


Interestingly, looking back to the 2007 data when the overall confidence level was nearly identical to where it sits today, there was a remarkable consistency in views across many subgroups. As the table below shows, there were only slight differences in confidence levels by gender, age, ethnicity and even party.


Table 3

With Americans’ confidence in public schools only a few points higher than it is in the beleaguered automobile industry (27{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} confident on the same NBC/WSJ study) it is clear that action needs to be taken to reform schools and restore public trust in the institution.

Public Opinion Strategies