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48th Annual PDK Poll: Americans Divided Over Purpose of Education

If it’s back-to-school time, it’s time for the annual Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. The findings released today, in this 48th year of the survey, show views that are consistent with prior years in many areas and reveal ambivalence about the primary purpose of public education.

As usual, most of the 1,221 adults (especially parents) who participated in the telephone interviews say they like their local public schools, in general, but are less positive about schools elsewhere and about their own schools’ performance in specific areas, ranging from academic rigor to development of students’ critical thinking and teamwork skills. Respondents are notably divided about the chief goals of public education, the degree of freedom that charter schools should have, and the appropriate balance between technology-based and traditional teaching.

Less than half of those polled say academic preparation should be the main goal of schools, while the rest are split fairly evenly between preparing students for work and for good citizenship. A majority of respondents (68%) also say if they had to choose between more honors/advanced academics and more career and technical education, they would opt for the latter.

“The American public does not agree on a single purpose for public education,” said PDK International CEO Joshua P. Starr in a press release. “And that’s despite the emphasis on academic achievement of the past 16 years. This tells me that the standards and test-based reforms of the Bush and Obama administrations have addressed only part of what the public wants.”

A clear majority of respondents opposes allowing parents to opt out of standardized tests on their children’s behalf, and a whopping 84% say “failing” schools should not be closed, but their teachers and administrators should be replaced.

The survey also asked about parent engagement, homework, school funding, standards, and more. For more information, visit pdkpoll.org.

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