We regularly hear about what a noble profession education is. We all can tell stories of those teachers who inspired us and those educators who placed us on the the paths of success. We talk about how education is a top three policy issue, with voters making decisions based on education policy.
And then some new data comes out to throw that conventional thinking off kilter. Two weeks ago, the latest Gallup/PDK Poll reported that only 17 percent of Americans give our public schools either an A or a B. Yesterday, Gallup released its survey on how business sectors rate (either positive or negative). And the results were a little startling.
The industry with the most positive view, according to the more than 1,000 surveyed, was the computer industry, followed by the restaurant industry. The oil and gas industry had the largest negative opinion, beating out the federal government by just one percentage point (64% negative to 63% negative), though the feds had the largest gap between positive view and negative view (a 46-point spread).
And how did the education sector do? Of the 25 sectors surveyed, education placed 19th, with Americans having a more negative opinion about education than they do about accountants, pharmaceuticals, the airlines, and even PR flacks. Education posted a 35-percent positive/47-percent negative rating, placing it slightly above industries such as lawyers, bankers, and big oil.
What’s more troubling, though, is the trend. According to Gallup, in the last decade, education’s positive ranking have fell by 15 points. In 2001, half of all Americans had a positive view of the education sector. Today, it is down to a third. Only three industries (banking, real estate, and the federal government) had larger declines in that period, and all three are seen as the major actors for our current economic problems.
Are our growing negative opinions of public schools, illustrated by both the PDK poll and Gallup industry survey, a result of declining test scores? Of recent criticisms of teachers and the call for performance-based evaluations? Of drum beats of dropout factories and sliding graduation rates? Of ongoing stories of lowered state standards and rising numbers of schools failing to make AYP? Of a head-in-the-sand mentality that our schools have never been better and resistance (or outright assault) on school improvement efforts is necessary?
One thing is clear. When only one-third of your potential customers have a positive view of your industry, you have a problem. And when less than 20 percent of those you serve believe they are getting a good product (A or B level), you have a serious problem. These trends are not a blip, nor are they something one can ride out.
And let’s be clear about it. This is not an NCLB problem, an AYP problem, a Race to the Top problem, or a teacher quality problem. This is a public education problem.