New Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll Shows Little Public Support

For Anti-Public School Agenda


By Joe Batory (Note this article also appeared in The Delaware County Daily Times on 10/21/06.)


Despite the relentless propaganda efforts of the White House political machine and barrages of invective from “right wing” talking heads trying to discredit and dismantle public education, the American public is not buying in!


The results of the 38th annual poll of The Public’s Attitudes toward Public Schools conducted by Phi Delta Kappa and Gallup (released August 22, 2006) run very much counter to the criticism and condemnation of public schools from the White House and its “right wing” operatives.


The public’s strong preference as determined from this poll is to seek educational improvement through the existing public schools rather than via an alternative system. The public is consistent in its view ---60% oppose the use of public funds for children to attend private schools, 80% prefer that students who attend schools that are struggling to meet academic standards receive help in their own schools rather than offers to transfer to another school, and 69% oppose contracting out the operation of local school systems to private companies. 


The poll results show that Americans clearly recognize the need for educational improvements in public schools. However, the centerpiece of Bush’s education plan, the federally-mandated No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), is repudiated by the majority of the public. Nearly six in 10 Americans believe the No Child Left Behind Act has had no effect on our schools or has actually harmed them.  


“This finding regarding NCLB is significant and disturbing given that the nation’s schools are spending virtually all available money and resources to meet the demands of this law,” said Lowell Rose, co-author along with Alec Gallup of this poll.


When asked whether testing students in only English and Math (as required by NCLB) can give a fair picture of schools, 81% of the public say No.


“The public rejects the punitive approaches of NCLB, favors a broad curriculum, prefers more appropriate measures of school performance than a single high-stakes test, and supports help targeted to the most vulnerable students,” explained William Bushaw, executive director of Phi Delta Kappa International.


Despite the ongoing mythology of woe and dismay about public schools being regularly perpetrated by the United States Office of Education, public ratings of their local schools by residents of the communities these schools serve, are quite positive and near the top of their 38 year polling range. The reality seems to be that the closer people are to the schools in their community (the more “first hand” contact they have with them), the higher grades they give their public schools.


“The fact that the public’s support of its local schools is unaffected by the intense criticism directed at public schools should send a message to those interested in improving public schools that change proposals should be built on the assumption that people like the schools they have,” noted Dr. Rose. It appears that the public wants less criticism and instead more resources, programs and support for innovations in its public schools.


Finally, when asked about the challenges faced by public schools, 77% of Americans look beyond the school walls and cite societal problems that are impacting schools and pupils. Recognizing a serious deficiency in our American society, 81% of the public believe that more pre-school programs for poor and at-risk children are needed to improve long-term school performance.  


The bottom line: Improving public schooling in America needs more than a misguided and intransient White House political agenda developed by its fringe group proponents. Listening to the American people might be a better idea for developing a meaningful education agenda for the public schools of our nation!




Joe Batory was Superintendent of Schools in Upper Darby (PA) from 1984-1999. When he retired he was honored with the Lifetime Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of School Administrators.  He is the author of three books on school leadership.