As the 2007/2008 school year winds to a close, the picture of the quality of education around the country is dim, according to a new Harris Poll of 2,602 U.S. adults surveyed online by Harris Interactive between May 5 and 12, 2008:
Public schools fall to the bottom of the list when it comes to the quality of education they provide. Just one in six U.S. adults (15%) say public schools, grades K-6 provide excellent or very good education while 13 percent say the same about public schools for grades 7-12;
When it comes to local public schools, those do a little better as one in five U.S. adults say both grades K-6 and 7-12 are providing an excellent or very good quality of education (20% and 19% respectively);
Where public schools have declined is in looking to attitudes from two years ago. In 2006, one-quarter (26%) said grades K-6 were doing an excellent or very good job while 23 percent said the same about public schools, grades 7-12;
Private, church related schools are considered the best, whether it is in the U.S. as a whole (38% saying excellent/very good for grades K-6 and 37% saying the same for grades 7-12) or their local schools (35% for K-6 and 34% for 7-12 saying excellent/very good).
Different types of schooling do better in specific subject or skill areas, and in looking more closely at three types of schooling (i.e., public, private and home schooling), there are different strengths associated with each type:
A majority believe that public schools are better at providing students a chance to get along better with people from different backgrounds (53%) while a plurality believes public schools are better for social skills with peers (42%);
Public schools also do better than private schools or home schooling in physical education (38% versus 20% and 3% respectively);
In looking at private schools, half of U.S. adults say it provides the better education in education gifted or talented children (51%) and preparing students for college (49%). Pluralities believe that private schools provide a better education than public schools or home-schooling in art/music (43%), mathematics (43%), foreign languages (42%), English literature (41%), science (41%) and reading/writing (40%);
Education for special-needs children is an area where public and private receive similar marks (28% and 29%) respectively. It is also the area where home-schooling receives the highest of all the categories (12%).
Looking Back in Time
In 1965, The Harris Poll looked at education, more specifically how money was being spent for teachers and for public schools in general. Please note, these surveys were conducted in-person, so this data should not be directly trended, but rather looked at in comparison.
At that time, just over half of U.S. adults believed that teachers in public schools were paid about the right amount (56%), two in five said they were paid too little (42%) and 2 percent said they were paid too much.
Flash forward 43 years and attitudes have changed. Now, three in five U.S. adults (59%) believe that teachers are paid too little while one-quarter (24%) say they are paid about the right amount and 6 percent say teachers are paid too much;
In looking at public schools in their communities, there is also a change in four decades. In 1965, over half (56%) believed about the right amount is being spent on public schools, one-third (32%) said too little is being spent and 12 percent said too much. In 2008, almost three in five (57%) say too little money is being spent on public schools in their community while one in five (20%) say it's about the right amount and 13 percent say too much.
According to Peter Shafer, Vice President and Head of Harris Interactive's Youth Center of Excellence, "The continued decline in the public's perception of the quality of education should be a call to action for administrators and policymakers at all levels of government. It is appalling that one of the best areas of performance in public education the quality of gym classes."
Shafer also notes, "We are not surprised in one regard – these data confirm what we have been hearing and seeing in our studies of principals, teachers, and administrators for the past decade – it is increasingly more difficult to make real and significant changes in the education system. The demands on all educational institutions from the community are growing, budgets are being trimmed and the quality has definitely suffered."
"Data from the Harris Interactive School Poll study conducted in various districts across the country show that when parents, teachers, administrators and students take ownership of improving education, the quality rises – as does the perception of its value," Shafer concluded.