The American public wants more than academic quality from its local public schools–career skills classes, licensing and certificate programs, and technology and engineering classes are increasingly identified as important for today’s students in a new public opinion survey.

The public also wants educators to find ways to help students develop their interpersonal skills and limit standardized tests.

These findings are just part of the latest edition of the annual Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, the defining public opinion survey on American public education for the past 49 years.

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The poll also reveals that parents value racial/ethnic and economic diversity in their schools, although most aren’t willing to undertake a longer commute to reach schools that would provide that for their children.

(Next page: How the public feels about leading policy trends)

The 2017 PDK survey finds that certain attitudes toward public education follow recent trends, while others continue to challenge the thinking of education and government leaders. For example, reliance on standardized testing as a measure of school quality is drawing comparatively little support from the public. A majority of Americans continue to oppose using public funds to send students to private schools. And if the question is expanded to include religious schools as an option, voucher support declines and the public’s opposition rises to 61 percent.

“These and other results suggest that some of the most prominent ideas that dominate current policy debates–from supporting vouchers to emphasizing high-stakes tests–are out of step with parents’ main concern: They want their children prepared for life and career after they complete high school,” said Joshua P. Starr, the chief executive officer of PDK International.

According to the 2017 survey, a vast 82 percent of respondents support job or career skills classes even if it means some students might spend less time on traditional academics. Some 86 percent said schools should offer certificate or licensing programs that qualify students for employment upon graduation, and 82 percent see technology and engineering classes as extremely or very important elements of school quality.

Eighty-two percent of those polled deemed it highly important for schools to develop the interpersonal skills of students. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said it was “extremely important” to develop skills like teamwork and persistence, compared to just 13 percent who consider standardized test scores an extremely important indicator of school quality.

PDK has surveyed the American public every year since 1969 to assess public opinion about public schools. The 2017 survey was conducted by Langer Research Associates of New York City. It is based on a random, representative 50-state sample of 1,588 adults interviewed by cell or landline telephone — in English or Spanish — in May of this year. The margin of sampling error for the phone survey is ±3.5 percentage points for the full sample, including the design effect. Error margins are larger for subgroups such as parents of school-age children.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione
About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura