William Bushaw is co-director of the new Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll on The Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. He spoke with EWA about the findings.
1. Individuals consistently rank their own neighborhood schools higher than schools nationally. Parents also overwhelmingly believe their child will graduate high school and find a good job. How should we view this level of optimism in the face of what seems to be strong indicators that the outlook isn’t as rosy?
People know a lot more about their schools at the local level, so they feel more confident rating them higher. Most Americans, fortunately, still choose where they can live. To give those local schools a poor rating would be challenge the choice that they’ve made to live in a certain place.
We know from multiple polls that students and adults tend to be optimistic. We think for the most part that’s a really good trait of Americans. However, that does defy some of the data we have on things like graduation rates. When people say they generally like their schools, it presents a unique challenge for policymakers who want to build support to transform those schools.
2. The new poll gives President Obama a 5-percentage point lead over Mitt Romney, if the voters’ based their decision solely on a desire to support public schools. How accurate has the poll been in predicting prior presidential races?
In 2000 and 2004, it predicted dead heats in both elections, and that’s what we saw. Four years ago it predicted overwhelming support for President Obama, and that was exactly what happened. It’s certainly closer (this time) than it was four years ago. We may have a whole new Litmus test for political pundits to consider.
3. In the new poll, nearly one of out of every two adults said they had been bullied while in schools, but only 16 percent of respondents said they had been a bully themselves. Does that suggest people might not recognize their own past behavior, or could it mean that one bully has many victims?
When I first got to those results I wondered the very same thing. Was it one explanation or the other? Do people have selective memories when it comes to bullying? We don’t have an answer. That’s something that’s going to require closer examination by experts in that field.
4. What surprised you about this year’s results?
The fact that there was only lukewarm support for using students’ standardized test scores in teacher evaluations was unexpected (52 percent of respondents said they were in favor of the practice). We’re focusing a lot of energy right now into how to incorporate standardized test scores into teacher evaluations – there wasn’t as much support (in the poll) given the resources we’re putting into it.
5. Is there an underlying message from the data that you hope to see emphasized?
I present the poll results throughout the year to various groups. One of the findings I try focus on is that people have trust and confidence in the teachers in public schools. The confidence rate was 71 percent for a third consecutive year. When I talk to educators, they don’t accept that (statistic) – they feel like they’re under attack. But clearly Americans like teachers. I tell them, “They have a lot of questions about the larger organization, but they respect and trust what you do in the classroom.”