Grading K-12 Public Schools: What is Important?

What I appreciate about the 47 years of the PDK/Gallup Poll is how it tracks changes over time in how Americans view K-12 public education. The 2015 poll is filled with valuable information.

Perhaps most surprising is the change over time in how Americans view standardized testing. In 1970, when Americans were asked if they wanted students in their local schools to take national tests to compare students in other communities, 75% said yes. Today? Not so much.

When Americans were asked this year what was important to them in measuring effectiveness of their public schools in their community, just 14% of public school parents rated test scores as very important making it last in the list of options.

What were top on the list? A strong majority (about 8 in 10) Americans believe: (1) how students are engaged with their classwork; and (2) students’ level of hope for the future are very important for measuring effectiveness. High school graduation rates came next.

Personalized learning, a key strategy of 21st century education, is all about engagement—of both student and teacher. When students are engaged in activities geared to their level and interest, they become more confident and filled with hope for the future. Makes sense!

Americans were also clear on their choices if they were free to select a local public school for their children. 95% of public school parents said that “Quality of Teaching Staff” was very important. Curriculum was next with 85% and class size third with 75% choosing them as very important. Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites agreed across the board. Student achievement on standardized tests? Only 14% of parents ranked that as very important, though Blacks and Hispanics ranked testing as very important at 27% and 24% respectively.

Providing teachers the autonomy they desire and opportunity to lead the school as well as the classroom have been shown to improve teacher quality. It’s not a coincidence that a survey by Education Evolving showed that 85% of the American public believes teacher-powered schools are a good idea.

American views on education are moving into the 21st century. Regretfully, too many of our K-12 public schools need to catch up.