Monday, September 26, 2005

My kid's school rates an "A," your kid's a "B," and their kids' schools are failing!

For thirty-seven years, the folks at Phi Delta Kappa magazine and the Gallup Poll people have collaborated on a comprehensive survey of public attitudes toward American schools. Few people outside of the education community are aware of that.

Strangely, the regular media has almost totally ignored the years of polling results. It has been suggested the reason is a disparity between the general public’s perception of schools and the perceptions by the media and other critics of those same schools. True or not, it cannot be denied that thirty-seven years of poll results are relatively unknown by the general public.

I’ll even bet you discerning readers of this are almost totally unaware of either the poll’s lengthy history or its results. A few items from this year, therefore, may be of interest.

One of the most interesting questions to me has long been the one about how the responders grade the nation’s schools, their community schools, and the individual school the responder’s child attends. I do not have the exact statistics for thirty seven years, but according to this year’s report, they have remained largely unchanged.

This year, 24% of the general public gave an A or a B to the nation’s schools. That’s all. But 48% of the general public awarded an A or B to their community schools. Narrowing the responses from the general public to parents of school aged children, on the other hand, gives different perceptions. The percentage of parents who gave top grades to the schools in their community rose to 57%. The approval climbed to 69% for parents rating as A or B the individual school their oldest child attends within their community.

So it seems that the more one knows about the schools being rated, the higher the rating. And the more one thinks one knows about those “other” schools across town, down the road, or in another state, the lower the rating. Fascinating?

Another interesting response: Fifty-seven percent of respondents oppose permitting parents and students to choose attending private schools at public expense, as compared to 38% who favor it. I wonder what the percentage is of Americans paying for their kids to attend private schools.

The pollsters again found little real understanding of the federal “No Child Left Behind Act.” The public often opposed aspects of the act embedded in questions, while the act, itself, received higher approval than its provisions. The pollsters concluded, “The NCLB strategies are frequently out of step with approaches favored by the public.” (p.43.)

Almost two-thirds of the people polled this year (62%) say they would endorse teaching as a career for a child of theirs. That seems both healthy and positive. I could let the curmudgeon part of me wonder if the 38% who do not support that career choice are educators. But I won’t. Or maybe they are the same 38% who favor public funding of private schools. Makes sense?

To read the entire sixteen page poll and results, check out the Phi Delta Kappan Magazine for September, 2005, at your local library. You probably can also find a summary by visiting the Phi Delta Kappan home page. ( Then, answer the critics who do not know your local schools when they begin to criticize them. Cheers!


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Anonymous Bill Riedel said...

This is to warn you to beware of letting any public money go to private schools, in light of disastrous problem this is causing here in Australia.

About 40 years ago, the Federal government started to give some funds to poor Catholic schools so that they could upgrade their libraries, science labs, and things like that. Subsequently, lobbyists for the private school industry became ever more successful at gaining access to public funds. Private schools have therefore proliferated. Public funds have enabled them to keep fees low enough to attract students who would otherwise go to public schools. About a third of Australia’s children now go to private schools and that proportion continues to increase, with no end in sight.

Private schools now receive about a half of their operating expenses from government sources. In fact it may often be well over 50%. When I enquired at a local Lutheran high school I was told that their contribution from the government is about 62% - even though this is a fairly prosperous region. On top of that, a few years ago the Federal government started making funds available also for building construction at private schools!!

If this tendency continues, it won’t be long before the majority of children will be in private schools, and the public schools will be no more than detention centers of the most disadvantaged, worst behaved children, staffed by teachers and administrators who can’t find a position in ever-more-desirable private schools.

It bothers me that children are not given a reasonably even chance to develop their potential. Worse than that, the system here exacerbates the tendency toward a two-tier society, the haves and the have-nots. Of course there will always be people better-off, and others worse-off, but disadvantaged children should not be discriminated against by the system of schools.

Because this situation has been developing for 40 years, parents have gradually come to believe that it is the way things have to be. They seem incapable of conceiving an alternative. When I talk to them, they constantly bring up a few points that have become the common wisdom -

if the private schools were shut down, the public schools could not accommodate all the children. Perfectly true, but equally stupid. No-one would think of reducing their numbers suddenly, but only by a sensibly measured pace of reduction of their government funding, which would then go toward strengthening the public system.

public schools don’t put enough stress on “values”. Of course they don’t (nor should they) stress the values of any particular religion, but I’m sure that they instill moral human values. Parents can influence the values taught in public schools.

parents deserve a “choice” of schools for their children. The public system offers a wide spectrum of kinds of school, and would offer more if the voters demanded. The only choice they don’t offer is that of religion. If parents want to use religious schools, they should pay the full cost and not be helped by the government. Homes and churches provide plenty of opportunity for teaching of religion.

any government that proposed reducing funds to private schools would be out on their ear in no time. That may be true, but maybe not. A courageous party should advocate this as a step toward strengthening the public school system. They might be pleasantly surprised by the public's positive response at the polls.

The system now in place in Australia is clearly a failed experiment, and people should be prepared to admit that and to demand a fundamental change, to strengthen the public system.

9/26/2005 9:49 PM  
Anonymous a teacher said...

I don't know Australia, but what Mr. Riedel says scares me when I see the direction our leaders want American schools to go. Let's hope cooler, wiser heads take the reigns soon!

9/26/2005 11:53 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Thanks, Bill Riedel, for your thoughtful and detailed account of forty years of Australia funding private schools and the results. There are many people in this country who truly believe that is the way to go. I wish they all could read your comments and/or visit your schools. As you might expect, I don't know any educators who feel that way, however.

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