Bill Phillis points out the annual paradox, reported in every poll about public schools: the public has a low opinion of American education but a very high opinion of their neighborhood public school, the one they know best. This is the result of more than thirty years of public school bashing, launched in 1983 by the Reagan-era “Nation at Risk” report. To the great frustration of the Disruption machine (“Reformers”), Americans love their public schools. That is where nearly 90% of the children are enrolled.

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2019 Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) 51st Annual Poll: implications for education policy in Ohio—first in a series

Grades given to public schools by the public

Most adult Americans have attended public schools. No doubt their experience in the public system and the experience of their children greatly influence the grade they give public schools.

Subsequent to the release of the flawed Nation at Risk report in 1983, many government officials have portrayed public education as a failing institution. Those politicians have spurred the creation of tax-supported, privately-operated education alternatives.

It would seem the public perception of public education would have soured given the way public schools have been attacked and the tax-supported options that have been made available. However, the grades the public have given public schools the past half century have changed very little.

In 1981, 20% graded the nation’s schools A or B. In 2019, 19% gave public schools an A or B. In 1974, 48% graded their community’s schools (not charters) A or B. In 2019, 44% gave their community’s schools A or B. In 1986, 71% of parents gave their child’s schools an A or B. In 2019, 76% gave their child’s school an A or B.

The type of district grades given to schools varied by type of district (urban, suburban, rural), race, income, etc.

Those closest to the public schools gave them the highest grade. People generally give their own schools much higher marks than the nation’s schools in general.

The remarkable take away is that in spite of 30 years of public school bashing, the perception of the American people has changed very little.

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