Public Dissatisfied with Learning Standards, Disagrees on Goal of Education, Poll Shows

Published October 28, 2016

Less than half of Americans say they’re satisfied with the educational standards in the public schools in their community, according to polling released by Phi Delta Kappa (PDK).

The 48th annual PDK “Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools” was created by surveying phone interviews with 1,200 adults across the United States. The PDK pollsters asked respondents for their opinions on various topics concerning public education.

The poll, released in September, found, “Fewer than half of Americans (46 percent) say the educational standards in the public schools in their community are about right, while nearly as many (43 percent) say expectations for students are too low. Few (7 percent) think standards are too high.”

The poll also reported, “Fewer than three in 10 adults (27 percent) think educational standards effectively address the things students need to succeed in their adult lives, including just 9 percent who think they do this extremely well. Four in 10 take the middle position, saying school standards address what’s needed somewhat well, leaving three in 10 who think the standards are not so or not at all relevant to later success.”

The poll also reported 59 percent of people oppose allowing students to opt out of standardized state tests; 84 percent would rather see a failing school kept open and improved than closed (14 percent); 48 percent say charter schools should meet the same educational standards as other public schools; and 46 percent say they should set their own standards.

Opposing Opt-Out Mentality

One of the most pronounced disparities in public thought came in response to the question of whether public school students should be allowed to opt out of standardized testing; 59 percent oppose allowing parents to opt their kids out, 37 percent are in favor.

Jason Bedrick, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, says it’s understandable why the polling shows many parents oppose opt-outs.

“If some parents can opt out, schools can encourage the parents of students with lower scores to do so, and that will bias the results,” Bedrick said. “But parents are rightly concerned that the top-down testing accountability will warp schools’ priorities, placing great emphasis on the tested subjects and test-taking skills themselves at the expense of other important aspects of education.”

Shane Vander Hart, editor of the Truth in American Education blog, says public schools are fomenting opinion against opting out. 

“I think parents have bought into talking points from schools that opting out will result in a school being harmed should they not reach the 95 percent testing threshold,” Vander Hart said.

Varying Goals of Public Education

PDK poll respondents said academic preparation (45 percent) is the most important goal of the public school system, followed by preparing students for work (25 percent) and preparing students for adult citizenship (26 percent).

Bedrick says the U.S. education system should encompass the public’s diverse viewpoints.   

“The reality is that there have always been a variety of different and overlapping goals for education: producing good citizens, training good workers, inculcating good values, passing on our culture and traditions, etc.,” Bedrick said. “In a free society, people will value different things. What we need is an education system that respects and reflects that freedom.”

Parents ‘Reclaim Ownership’

Vander Hart says education policy should be directed toward the best interests of individual students.

“I reject one-size-fits-all approaches and support empowering parents to reclaim ownership and responsibility for their children’s education and to do what is in their child’s best interest,” Vander Hart said. “I think the more that is done among individual families, the more you’ll see student achievement increase collectively.”

Bedrick says where students are educated shouldn’t matter.    

“I think the goal should be ensuring that every child has the opportunity to get the education that works best for him or her,” Bedrick said. “Whether that’s in a district school, charter school, private school, or homeschool should be irrelevant.”

Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Internet Info:

Phi Delta Kappa, “PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools 2016,” September 2016: