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Parents, the Public and Schools: A Degree of Difference

by Scott Bittle

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

The Gallup poll says more Americans are more dissatisfied with the quality of education than at any point in the past decade but what, exactly, are they dissatisfied about?

Some 54 percent of the public says they're "completely" or "somewhat" dissatisfied with K-12 education, up from 45 percent in 2004. Parents, however, are a lot happier, with eight in 10 saying they're either somewhat or completely satisfied with the education their child gets.

A lot of this is no surprise, and in fact it's one of the best-established public opinion trends in education. For years, Americans have given their local schools better grades than public schools nationally, and parents have been happier about schools than the general public. When it comes to public education, familiarity breeds confidence, at least to some degree.

When Public Agenda has asked both parents and the public about their perception of the schools in their own community, the similarities are more striking than the differences. And the differences are often a matter of degree, not of basic perceptions.

For example, when we asked parents and the general public about the most pressing problem facing the high schools in their community, both said "social problems and kids who misbehave" was more important than low academic standards. But 63 percent of parents said this, compared with 56 percent of the public.

When asked to rate local schools, parents are more confident than the public that schools are doing a good job preparing students for college level English (55 percent compared to 46 percent), to be successful adults (53 percent vs. 44 percent), for college math (52 percent vs. 45 percent) and college science (50 percent compared to 44 percent).

Yet when it comes to deciding what's important for students to learn, we found parents and the public wanted the same things (especially when it comes to basic skills). And when given options on how to spend extra education money in their community, parents and the public would spend it the same way.

That's worth remembering as the nation continues to debate how to ensure all kids get a good education: conflict makes the news but there's a lot more consensus out there than you think..


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