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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Lake Wobegone Effect Plagues Parent Surveys

THEN (not so then)

A 2008 poll from Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University found that Americans are increasingly disappointed with public schools, and that by a 3 to 2 ratio believe that Democrats have a better record on education than Republicans (Q18) and are more likely to improve schools (Q19). The other, a Phi Delta Kappa (PDK)/Gallup poll, found that most Americans believe President Barack Obama (46%) would be more likely than President John McCain (29%) to improve public schools.

As with surveys in other fields, respondents rate themselves higher than others.

As other surveys have shown, the public’s evaluations become somewhat more favorable when the subject turns to the public schools in their own communities (see Figure 1)... But teachers offer the schools systematically higher grades than the rest of the public. Thirty-four percent give the schools an A or a B, while only 14 percent give them one of the two lowest grades (Q.1).

The demographic at the losing end of the achievement gap ranked the nation's schools even lower. This group also depends most on public schools.

On the whole, survey respondents offered slightly lower evaluations of the nation’s schools in 2008 than they did in 2007, and some groups posted sharp declines. Twenty-seven percent of African Americans gave the public schools an A or a B in 2007, but in 2008, that figure fell to 20 percent. Meanwhile, the share of African Americans giving schools a D or an F rose from 20 percent to 31 percent. The share of Hispanics awarding schools a similarly poor grade doubled during the period, from 16 to 32 percent.

Although public school teachers (34% A or B) graded public schools significantly higher than the general public (20% A or B), nevertheless teacher opinion implies that a full 66% of teachers believe public schools are performing below expectations. For the education system of the richest, most powerful country in the world, a C or below is simply unacceptable.

40% of teachers gave schools nationally an A or B grade, but 61% gave their local schools an A or B grade. It seems obvious that teachers are essential to school reform, but if all politics is local, and by extension, all education reform is local, education reform must overcome teacher satisfaction and consequent inertia first.

Perhaps surprisingly, given union activism on the issue, somewhat more public school teachers (47%) favor the formation of charter schools (Q11) than the general public (42%). On the other hand, twice as many public school teachers (33%) oppose charter school compared to the general public (16%).

The survey concluded, among other things, "...while Americans retain an abiding commitment to public education, the grades that they assign the nation’s schools are increasingly mediocre."


The 2011 Gallup/PDK poll found 69% of Americans give high grades to their local teachers.

Perhaps the most significant finding was that more than 70 percent of Americans said that they have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching in public schools. The percentage of Americans who would grade their local schools as A’s or B’s continues to be at an all-time high. The percentage was even higher among people under the age of 40...

69 percent of Americans would grade teachers in their communities with an A or B – higher than their principals or school boards. This confidence also exists despite the fact that most Americans said that they hear more bad stories than good stories about teachers in the news media.

As usual, people graded their community schools higher than the nation's schools (page 18 and 19). 51% gave their their own children's schools an A or B, but 81% rated the nation as a whole C or below.

In Lake Wobegone, all children are above average. Most Americans seem to think their children go to Lake Wobegone schools.

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