Education: At Least We Aren’t the Oil Industry?

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.      

2 thoughts on “Education: At Least We Aren’t the Oil Industry?

  1. Dear Pat,I count many great teachers from elementary school through high school (public), to college and beyond, who inspired me to become an educator and write a book about education. Teaching is a noble profession if you have a passion for communicating ideas and opening adolescent minds to their self-awareness, -understanding, -knowledge, -motivation, and -efficacy. It is true that opinions of educators and public education have decreased over the years and that has much to do about nothing, that is, NCLB, test-prepping, and the misguided world of education, reformers, policy makers, and politicians who want to control things in an egotistical manner and assert their power in a sector they are not really familiar with and only pretend to know from what they have read and heard. They see things from the outside looking in…Education, like the economy, is reaching end points, limits, a world of diminishing returns such as the Atlanta cheating scandal (and there are more to come) and the numerous crises in the financial sector (Wall Street and with more to come). The world of greed, whether it’s scoring high on standardized tests, or winning the race to the top (of what?), or making a big killing in the market, no matter what the price, fair or unfair, has permeated education and the economy. This paints an ugly picture of what we have become…and a sad one, too…Yes, there are serious problems in school, public education, with teachers, teaching, and the training of teachers. And yes, we as educators need to take a long, deep look in the mirror of our academic and real life experiences, in and out of school, and reflect, to find new answers about ourselves as educators and the kids that sit in front of us. What about the rest of the world of public education: students, parents, school leaders, and computer technology? How do they fit in this equation and problem called public education? Why are students left out? Why are parents left out, even when they want in (see NYC)? How much responsibility should be given to kids and parents to control educational coursework and destinies? Why shouldn’t administrators return to the classroom and teach? How can/will technology/software re-create, re-invent, and re-energize education as we know it today? How much change and power will it dictate? Will it become “Hal,” the computer that lost it, in “2001, A Space Odyssey”? Will the technology used in education become lost in cyberspace?Education, like so many things in the world of sur-reality, is lost in lost causes, has no memory and is loaded with visionaries coming up with answers for and proofs of their own genius. When I talk to friends about how tough teaching is and how hard it is to handle kids so they get the most out of themselves, people say how short my workday is (and all those vacations), to which I respond: Any time you want to spend a day in my classroom, you’re invited. I don’t get any takers.

  2. I totally agree with you, this is a public education problem! The system must be changed, so that we get different result and education be on top positive sectors!

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