PDK released the results of its 49th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools this week. While polls of the public about topics like American education reflect public opinion at one point in time, it is true that this specific poll has a long history and can provide a lot of historical context, allowing readers to see how opinion has changed over time. It also explores public attitudes towards emerging trends in the K-12 arena.
This year PDK asked specific questions about job and career training in public schools and found wide support.
- 86% of Americans say public high schools should offer classes that award certificates or licenses qualifying students for employment in specific fields
- 82% support public high schools offering job or career skills classes even if it means that those students spend less time in academic classes
- 82% see technology and engineering classes to prepare students for careers in those fields as extremely or very important in school quality
- 51% think public high schools should offer more job or career skills classes than they do now
The PDK report cuts the data by a variety of demographic variables. As might be expected, public school parents who expect their child to get a full-time job or go to college part time while also working are more apt to support more job skills classes than parents who expect their child to go to college full time (62% vs. 52%). In a more puzzling vein, support for public high schools offering more job or career skills classes than they do now peaks at 64% among parents whose oldest child in public school is a boy vs. 49% if it’s a girl. Parents may not have a broad enough understanding of the future job outlook or of the types of classes that comprise today’s job or career skills offerings.
In telling the story of this 49th annual poll, PDK emphasizes what it sees as strong support for job-focused education. And it’s true that the support is there, but when you combine that interest with other survey responses what emerges, in my opinion, is an overall desire for a more balanced and holistic approach to education.
For example, when asked to indicate the importance of a predetermined set of quality factors in school quality, respondents considered a wide range of factors as important aspects of the school quality metric.
Interpersonal skills* 82%
Having technology and engineering classes** 82%
Having advanced academic classes 76%
Having art and music classes 71%
Having extracurricular activities 70%
How well students do on standardized tests 42%
* How well the school helps students learn skills like being cooperative, respectful of others, and persistent at solving problems
** Having technology and engineering classes to help students prepare for careers in those fields
Americans are not very positive about standardized tests. Fewer than half of survey respondents see standardized test scores as a very important or important determiner of school quality. Further, fewer than half (46%) are very or somewhat confident that standardized tests measure “the things about your child’s public school education that are most important to you personally,” including just 17% who are very confident of this. Just 58% are very or somewhat confident that standardized tests do a good job measuring how well their child is learning, including just 19% who are very confident of this.
Oddly, while only 39% are very or somewhat confident in the ability of standardized tests to measure students’ interpersonal skills, 84% overall say such testing should be undertaken, and 66% say schools should be held accountable for the scores. Maybe Americans have learned the NCLB lesson of what is tested is taught and they want to see these skills taught.