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Survey: Americans favor public schools; oppose vouchers

 (September 1, 2017) An annual survey by a respected education organization shows that Americans generally favor public education, oppose over-testing of students, and don’t want public education funds spent on private and religious schools.

“The Phi Delta Kappa survey tells us that most Americans are leery of what the status quo has been offering,” said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Larry Carter. “They are more interested in building a bright future for their children than in compiling test data.”

The testing emphasis that has driven education policy for the past two decades does not impress the American public, according to the survey. Less than half (42%) say that test performance is a very important metric for school success, while 84% say that students’ interpersonal skills should figure in the assessment.

The survey gives weight to the LFT’s long held position that concentration on high-stakes testing for a few academic subjects shortchanges much of what is important to a child’s growth, Carter said.

“An overwhelming majority of parents (86%) want to see high-quality vocational programs in their schools as well as college-prep courses,” Carter said. “I know we can do that in Louisiana because I have seen successful programs in some of our schools. I recently toured high schools in St. Tammany Parish whose graduates can be certified for skilled technical, health care and culinary careers.”

The survey confirmed LFT’s suspicion that the emphasis on high-stakes testing cheats students out of activities that build well-rounded citizens. While big majorities say that academic classes are important, so are extracurricular activities (70%) and art and music classes (71%).

“Schools must make choices based on the limited resources provided to them,” Carter said. “We have seen a sad decline in the enrichment electives that add value and meaning to students for the rest of their lives.”

The PDK survey indicates that Louisiana is wasting precious school resources on voucher schemes that spend public funds on tuition at private and religious schools, Carter said.

By big majorities – 52% to 39% - Americans oppose the idea of vouchers. But when specifically asked, “Should public funds pay only for public schools or be able to be used for any school,” the opposition rises to 61%.

“Americans are smarter than the politicians and special interests who want to divert resources away from our public schools,” Carter said. “It will be up to us to make that case when elections come around.”

Overwhelming majorities of Americans believe that schools should play bigger roles in the overall well-being of their communities. Ninety-two percent favor after-school programs, and 87% say schools should provide mental health services for students. Three-quarters of those surveyed said that additional funds should be sought to provide those wraparound services.

“The LFT wholeheartedly endorses the community school concept,” Carter said. “We have these great facilities that are only used for seven hours a day for nine months a year. Our schools should be centers of community activity around the clock and around the year. We should provide the wraparound services that children need to succeed in a rapidly changing society.”

The survey shows that most Americans strongly support their local public schools. Sixty-two percent of public school parents would grade their schools A or B.

Survey respondents are harsher in their assessment of public schools nationwide, with only 24% giving them an A or B.

“Those closest to the schools know how good they can be,” Carter said. “An unfortunate anti-public school campaign has obviously succeeded in coloring public opinion about the schools that people are not close to. Again, it will be up to us to change that perception and show just how great a public education can be for all our children.”

For over 40 years, PDK has conducted the annual survey of American opinions about their public schools.  PDK says the 2017 survey, conducted last may, “is based on a random, representative, 50-state sample of 1,588 adults interviewed by cell or landline telephone….”

Full survey results may be seen at this link.