A new poll from the Gallup organization shows the highest level of public dissatisfaction and the biggest split in education opinions by party affiliation in 16 years of polling. Yet more than three-fourths of parents remain satisfied with their oldest child’s education.
Parents, who have first hand knowledge of their child’s school, have generally been highly satisfied with the results, with parental satisfaction dropping below 70 percent only twice since 1999.
Yet broader public response, including non-parents as well as parents, is much less favorable, with less than 50 percent of all respondents satisfied with U.S. education every year except 2004. This year, overall satisfaction with education fell to 43 percent, the lowest level since 2010.
Other surveys find similar differences: parents rate schools higher than the general public, and people rate their own community schools higher than schools nationally.
The survey does not distinguish between attitudes about public schools versus other forms of schooling. Support materials released by Gallup show that over time, between 80 and 85 percent of respondents say their children are in public schools, around 10 percent are in private schools, and the remainder split between parochial schools and home schools.
Finally, the survey shows that recent declining satisfaction with education has been largely driven by Republicans. Although attitudes by party have generally been fairly close, over the past two years satisfaction by Republicans has dropped from 48 percent to 32 percent, while satisfaction by Democrats has increased from 48 percent to 53 percent.
That means Republican satisfaction with education is at the lowest point recorded, while Democrat satisfaction is tied for second-highest. As with so many other social issues, this survey shows a deep partisan divide as the country prepares for a general election.
How might these attitudes affect public policies for education in a heavily Republican state like Kansas? Republicans at the national level and some legislative leaders in Kansas have advocated giving parents more choices in education by funding private schools or public charter schools outside of local school board control. The concept, in other words, is either taking students out of what is seen as a failing system or trusting competition to improve it.
However, surveys like the new Gallup results generally show that parents – who would have to make the choice – are much more satisfied with their children’s education than the public as a whole.
At the same time, being “dissatisfied” doesn’t necessarily mean opposition to the public school system itself. Many observers of the August primary in Kansas believe that voters were “dissatisfied” with K-12 funding levels or other state policies, not local school programs and policies – and that led to the defeat of a number of incumbent Republicans who supported those state policies.