So What Would Americans Change about Public Education?

(This is a piece from 2013.)

The Pew Research Center, which churns out an endless stream of survey reports and findings on all kinds of topics, recently summarized a recent poll that found two-thirds of surveyed Americans believe that the public educational system is in need of a major overhaul. You may be thinking that this could be said about just about any American government institution these days.

Given that public education is the dominant institution that shapes our next generation (for good or bad), it’s worth contemplating what those changes might look like. In this particular survey, there was a remarkable agreement among Republicans (65%), Democrats (67%) and Independents (67%) that something needs to be done. But don’t look to this particular survey for insights on what needs to be changed–it was just one question amid many about all kinds of things festering in the American psyche.

Since 1969, the Gallup organization has conducted annual surveys in partnership with Phi Delta Kappa, the professional association for educators, about public attitudes towards public education. The latest one will be released this week, on August 21, 2013. Every year, the poll starts off by asking what the biggest problem is facing schools. In 2012, the leading response was funding. A decade ago, it was violence, drugs and discipline.

What the public thinks about public education is of course important–but do we have a road map for what we should do now? Or are these attitudes simply the bellwether for other deep-seated worries? For example, a year ago, this 2012 poll indicated that about half of the respondents thought Common Core would improve education while another 40% thought it would have no effect. What a difference a year makes, with growing criticisms from both the left and the right about all that’s perceived to be wrong with Common Core. (Bill Keller’s op-ed piece in the New York Times today captures that growing storm.)

So dear reader, what would you change about public education? Will public education remain public?

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