A National Priority: Overview

Summary of Key Findings

Education issues are still high on the public's agenda, according to a new national survey of:

  • American adults
  • primary and secondary school teachers
  • administrators
  • state- and local-level education policymakers

A majority of Americans now say we need major changes or a complete overhaul of our education system in grades K–12, an assertion that has increased in comparison to a poll taken at about the same time last year. Assessments of school quality remain largely unchanged from last year. Most of the public, educators and education policymakers give the nation's schools a grade of "C," even while teachers and parents give the schools where they work or send their own children grades that average a "B."

Education Reform

Many educators and education policymakers believe that progress is being made in education reform, while parents and the public feel that education reform is something not of the past but of the hoped-for future. The reason for this is simple: Only 12 percent of the public and just 36 percent of teachers know that a national education reform bill was signed into law last year.

The appetite for education reform is so great that the public will endorse almost any proposal to improve the educational experience. Two in three adults support nearly every reform proposal. Those proposals include initiatives to:

  • improve teaching quality
  • increase accountability in the system
  • increase spending on education

The public does not pick and choose among these three broad approaches; rather, they opt to try all at the same time.

The basic values of greater parental involvement, more discipline in the classroom, and higher standards of accountability for students, teachers and administrators are still central to the discussion, but so are proposals to:

  • increase the resources the nation commits to education
  • build new schools
  • improve materials
  • increase individual attention for students having difficulties

Importantly, this support remains strong even when respondents are reminded that taxes will increase to pay for these initiatives.

Teachers, principals and school administrators tell us that parents are a large part of the problem with education in America and, perhaps surprisingly, parents agree. Each group in the survey places lack of parental involvement at the top of a list of factors contributing to problems in the nation's schools.

Teaching Quality

The public equates quality education with quality teaching. They have a clear sense of what defines quality teaching, and what they believe is lacking in many classrooms.

Quality teaching is defined as a teacher in every classroom who has a gift for designing learning experiences that engage young people and successfully communicate information and skills. In-depth knowledge of the subject matter is considered less important.

All agree that the problem is about retention. All segments agree that good young people are attracted to teaching and are adequately trained, but leave the profession due to low salaries and poor working conditions. A long-term career in teaching often means turning down more lucrative offers in the private sector.

Americans see a need to increase the number of qualified teachers in the classrooms to lower class sizes, which would allow more individual attention. Educators and education policymakers say this is one of the most important steps the nation can take; and the public makes it clear that it is willing to pay the taxes needed to make these changes.

Americans Speak