Policy

Americans May Use Public Schools, But They Don't Like 'Em

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Public schools harm children

I hear tell of people who are really happy with the public schools to which they send their kids, but I rarely meet them. Even when schools produce high standardized test results or funnel lots of graduates off to competitive colleges, parents often grumble that schools "teach to the test," or they complain about rigid rules, misplaced emphasis on certain subjects, or lousy discipline. These complaints are inevitable when governments deliver like-it-or-lump-it service to people who often can't afford to pay for alternatives on top of taxes, and so are stuck with one-size-fits-all institutions they didn't choose, and which don't suit their tastes. At least, that's been my impression so far, and now Gallup has polling results that say, sure enough, that most people aren't fond of public schools and have higher opinions of all other options.

According to Gallup's write-up of its poll, which was conducted earlier this month:

Public schools get a relatively poor rating, even though the vast majority of American children are educated in public schools. The poll finds 83% of parents with children in grades kindergarten through 12 saying their oldest child attends public school, compared with 9% who say private school, 4% home school, and 2% parochial school. The poll did not assess the percentage of children attending charter schools, a relatively new type of school.

Among all Americans polled, private schools get top ratings, with 78 percent of respondents ranking them Good or Excellent. Public schools come in dead last at 37 percent.

Public satisfaction with education options

If the poll is narrowed to only parents of school-age children, the results are surprisingly similar, with private schools getting the thumbs-up from 80 percent, and public schools scoring 47 percent approval — just ahead of homeschooling at 46 percent. I can't prove it, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is an artifact of the endless bashing of homeschooling that I've heard from public school teachers and administrators, of which parents are likely to get an earful. Then again, the educrats tend not to like charter schools either, and those still score well.

Opinions of education options among parents of school-age kids

True, this poll isn't an objective assessment of school results, but instead a measure of how people view the quality of different education choices. But it's clear that, no matter how "professional educators" perceive their own efforts, they're really not winning over their captive audience. In fact, the schools are almost certainly forcing down the public's opinion of their efforts by holding hostage parents and children who would rather be exploring other options.

If public educators want to be held in higher esteem, they need to make it easier for those who don't want their services to seek their lessons elsewhere. When public schools are being used only by the willing, they'll likely rank a little higher in the public's opinion.