The New PDK Poll is Here, the New #PDKPoll is Here!

Last week, the good folks at PDK released the results of the 48th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. So what do we think?

The most interesting number each year is how we grade public schools. In 1974, 48% of Americans gave their local schools an A or B grade. Today … 48% are still giving As and Bs to their local schools. The grade for our nation’s schools as a whole doesn’t fair nearly as well, with only 24% giving As and Bs to the nation, but that’s on par with grades over the past three or so decades. (Good thing ESSA is handing over authority from the federal to the localities, huh?)

On the purpose of education, 45% of those surveyed say the purpose is to prepare students academically, 26% say its to prepare students to be good citizens, and 25% say its to prepare students for work. So despite recent-year pushbacks, it seems school ensuring all kids are “college and career ready” is winning the day.

When evaluating the public schools, parents offer a significantly higher opinion on what’s happening than non-parents. Whether its providing factual evidence (47-37), preparing students to work well in groups (43-33), or enhancing critical thinking (36-28), those adults closer to the learners in the classroom are far more likely to say local public schools are doing extremely or very well.

When it comes to learning standards, only 7% think standards are too high, while 43% say current standards are too low. Interestingly, “too low” scores high with urban residents, adults in households earning more than $100,000 a year, and Republicans/conservatives.

Those surveyed still see “lack of financial support” the top problem facing local public schools, coming in at 19%. That’s more than double “lack of discipline” or “concerns about quality,” and almost three times the number who worry about the “quality of teachers.”

Continuing on the money trend, there were a few head scratchers. Of those who were confident higher taxes will help schools improve, nearly 30% said they oppose raising such taxes. And of those not confident higher taxes can result in school improvement, more than a third (35%) said they would support increased property taxes for the purpose. And if those taxes are raised, 34% of all those surveyed want to see it go to teachers.

When presented with an “either/or” decision on ideas to improve the schools, those surveyed:

  • Overwhelming supported more career-technical or skill based classes (68%) over more honors classes (20%)
  • Leaned toward raising teacher salaries (50%) over hiring more teachers (40%), even though smaller classes beat larger classes 51-40
  • Emphasizing more “traditional teaching” and using more technology battled to a draw, 43 all

The full survey results, found here, are definitely worth the read. Of particular interest for all should be a deep dive into thoughts on parent/school communications.

What does this all tell us? The public’s perceptions of public schools, both locally and nationally, aren’t as bad as many have made them out to be in recent years. Like our collective test scores on NAEP and international benchmarks, it seems our views — good or bad — about the schools have largely stagnated. Even with all of the ugliness in recent years about Common Core and testing, things are pretty much holding constant.

More importantly, we see those closer to the classroom — the parents — have more positive views on what is happening. And those parents are eager and hungry for additional information and greater interaction with their public schools.

While there is a lot to parse here, and many will cherrypick those data points that prove their own beliefs (or disprove the thoughts of those they rail against), the PDK poll provides an important foundation for discussion on where we are, where we are headed, and where we want to be.

(Full disclosure, Eduflack served, proudly, as a member of the PDK Poll Advisory Board this year.) 

Think Education is a 2016 Campaign Issue? Think Again.

Every election season, the same debate seems to happen in edu-circles. We discuss how important education issues are in this particular election. Such talk often will refer to a recent Gallup poll that places education fifth or eighth on the list of things people most care about. We mention the role of unions, particularly teachers unions, in turning out the vote. And we convince ourselves that education policy will matter this election year.

Earlier today, EdWeek’s Andrew Ujifusa provided a nice dive into what the Democrats’ education platform looks like, while last week his partner Alyson Klein reported on Donald Trump’s eduspeak at the GOP convention. We even have multiple edu-bloggers writing in recent days on the WikilLeaks DNC email dump and DNC staff referring to Common Core as the “third rail” this political season.

A lot of words, yes, but how does this translate to the average voter and the average campaign issue? To be fair, I don’t expect national campaigns to be running on campaign issues. I’d be shocked if Trump even mentions education again over the next three-plus months, other than have some of his surrogates mention Common Core and federal takeovers of our schools (and maybe bathrooms) as red meat for the base.

And while I don’t believe the key to Hillary Clinton picking up enough undecided voters to secure a plurality of voters come November is going to be edu-speak, I do expect education to be part of the discussion for the future. I believe a strong society and a strong future depends on a strong educational infrastructure. Whether that is managing student loan debt, improving access to postsecondary options including career and technical education, enhancing early childhood opportunities, and, yes, raising student test scores. Education is a key strand in the DNA of what so many are seeking when it comes to their futures.

So I was quire surprised when I received an email from the Hillary Clinton campaign this morning, asking me to fill out a survey to share what issues matter most to me and my family. I was asked the issue that mattered most to me, and was provided 14 choices (plus an other box). As you’ll see in this photo, choices included everything from gun violence prevention to criminal justice reform to climate change to Wall Street reform to disability rights. But no education.

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When I checked “other,” I didn’t get a free-fill box to write in my choice. So what “other” means to be will never be revealed to those tabulating what is most important to my family.

And when asked what the second-important issue was to my family, I got the same list.

I can only hope that those compiling the results from this survey (and from similar surveys being done by Team Trump) recognize that education is the non-negotiable in all of these. Looking at the 14 options provided, Eduflack can’t see how any of these issues cannot be fully addressed without improving the P-20 educational systems available to our families.

But I’ve also done enough political campaigns to know that subtlety and nuance are not things found to be effective in such efforts. When lists like these are provided to the average voter, we internalize that these are the issues most important to the American people. And we subconsciously acknowledge that education just isn’t on our list of the top 14 issues the country is facing.

And that’s a cryin’ shame.

 

A Failure to CCSS Communicate?

The Eduflack family lives in a PARCC state. For months, we have heard from our school district about preparing for the upcoming PARCC assessment. This has been a particularly “interesting” time for our house, as it will be the first time one of the edu-kiddos is slated to take a state exam.

In recent weeks, the talk shifted to the edu-son and his plans to take two rounds of PARCC tests this spring. The first will begin in just a few short weeks, and will run through much of March. The second round will come a month or so after completing the first round.

When dear ol’ Eduflack inquired about why the two rounds for a third-grader, he got the most curious of answers. Yes, I am aware that the PARCC test is intended to be offered in two parts, the first being the performance-based component and the second being the end-of-year component. As I understand it, it is two parts to the same exam. Part one looks at “critical-thinking, reasoning and application skills through extended tasks such as reading an excerpt from a book and writing about it.” Part two is designed to “measure concepts and skills.”

But that wasn’t the explanation we received, and I’m guessing it isn’t what our district is telling other parents who may not know better. Instead, the line was “PARCC is both a formative and summative test, so we offer the formative in March and then the summative in late April.”

Granted, I’m no psychometrician, but I’m not quite sure that’s how formative and summative assessments are supposed to work, at least not in the primary grades. And if it is, I don’t see how any schools or classes are going to show student learning outcome gains on a summative test just a few weeks after benchmarking with the formative.

And it should be no surprise that, as we have these confusions on assessment types, that the state teachers’ union is running TV spots on how horrible testing is and how there is nothing a test can tell a parent that a teacher can’t already relay.

To borrow from Cool Hand Luke, what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported on significant parent misperceptions about Common Core State Standards, particularly with regard to the content and subjects covered by the standards. But we have also seen a major assault against the standards because of the tests, with attacks coming on amount of testing time, stress of the test, technology issues, and all points in between. And it is the assault on assessment that has really chipped away at CCSS over the past several years.

Today’s example is just another one of how misperceptions–or lack of understanding–continue to hurt what are intended to be standard instructional guidelines in English and math. It gives one more thing to blame CCSS for, and one more reason to buy into the “over tested, over stressed” argument.

Instead, we should be taking opportunities to educate parents (and teachers and policymakers and just about everyone) on the different types of tests. What are the benefits of a formative assessment versus an interim versus a summative? How are they different? How can we tell when any one of the three is of high quality (as PARCC seems to be) and how can we decide when a test is just crap? And how do we ensure teachers and parents get test data in quick turnaround so it can be used to improve the teaching and learning process?

Until we address these types of questions, it will remain open season on testing in general, and CCSS assessments in particular. And until we ensure high-quality assessments focused on student learning, real efforts to improve public schools and ensure students are college and career ready will struggle to gain the hold they need to succeed.

How About Those Edu-Elections?

If anything, yesterday’s midterm elections were entertaining. We saw incumbents defeated. We saw incumbents previously left for dead winning big. We saw darkhorses win in the end. We races long written off come in within recount range. For those without a vested interest in a specific candidate, it was a heckuva night.

While yesterday’s results will be deconstructed ad naseum in the coming days and weeks, let’s take a look at some of the edu-implications.

The Power of Teachers’ Unions

It was the best of times and worst of times for the teachers’ unions. Teachers were able to start the night by crowing loudly about Tom Wolf’s win for the Pennsylvania governorship, knocking off an incumbent Republican governor who had slashed state education spending and sought to cancel out teacher contracts in Philadelphia. The unions also got to wrap up Election Day wit a big win, as Tom Torlakson was re-elected as state superintendent for public instruction in California, turning back reformer-backed Marshall Tuck. (And we will set aside the fact that the job has very little actual power in California education, with the real strength lying with the state board of education).

But what happened in between will have many people questioning the political power of the teachers’ unions. AFT and NEA put major dollars and major GOTV muscle into taking the governorships in states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, and Colorado. All went Republican. Strong union support couldn’t even help true-blue states like Massachusetts and Maryland elect Democratic (presumably pro-union, pro-teacher) governors.

Those Dems that did win the big chairs have some “history” with the teachers’ unions. In Connecticut, Dannel Malloy barely won re-election, and likely owes his win to teachers after just two years seeking to eliminate teacher tenure. In Rhode Island, Dem Gina Raimondo won the race, largely because she took on unions as part of a pension reform push she led.

Put all together, and the unions had limited impact in statewide elections, particularly in those states they targeted.

The Role of Ed Reformers

Yes, the AFT and NEA had a rough night. But it wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops for education reformers either. They lost their biggest prize of the evening when Torlakson beat Tuck in Cali. Reformers only won half the prize they sought with a big spend in the Minneapolis school board race.

Ed reform Dem governors like CT’s Malloy and NY’s Andrew Cuomo only won by seeking to reframe or rewrite their past support for reforms, as Cuomo practically came out as anti-CCSS.

In fact, reformers seemed most proud by Raimondo’s win, believing pension reform is a sure path to more education reform.

While much of the edreform community tends to focus on Democratic reformers, it was a good night for GOP edreformers. NM Gov. Susana Martinez., MA Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, and GA Gov. Nathan Deal to name but a few.

Common Core Impact

When it comes to the political impact of Common Core, support of opposition seemed to be neither help nor hindrance. The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli says that half the Republican governors are pro-Common Core. For those like Ohio’s John Kasich, such support didn’t hurt him at all. School Reform News reported that nine of the 10 GOP govs up for re-elect yesterday were against Common Core. For those like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Rick Scott, opposition to the Core helped. (Though I have to question School Reform News’ math, as with OH’s Kasich and NM’s Martinez, I already have two of the 10 GOP govs pro-CCSS, without adding voices like NV’s Sandoval and GA’s Deal.)

Those Pesky Statehouses

Over the weekend, John Oliver ranted about how few were paying attention to state legislature elections. And he is absolutely right. For education, that’s where the action will be, from CCSS to testing, from teacher evaluations to school funding. We still need to wait for the dust to settle, but the initial returns seem to show that GOP governors will have more supportive legislatures behind them, while Dem governors will have a few less supporters on their benches. Issue coalitions may very well win the day in state capitals, particularly on issues such as education.

No doubt there is more to come. The one thing we know with certainty? With Sen. Lamar Alexander taking over as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, it is safe to say we have a Senate chairman who, as a former gov, former EdSec and former university president, knows a thing or two about the issue of education.

The New PDK Survey Is Here, The New PDK Survey Is Here

In the immortal words of Steve Martin from the movie, The Jerk, “The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!” Only instead of talking the latest white and yellow pages, where the inclusion of our name shows we are somebody, we are talking about this year’s PDK/Gallup Poll, which validates all we’ve been thinking, hearing, and saying these past 12 months on the shifts in public education.

What do this year’s results tell us? A quick sampling:

  • Overall, only slightly more than a quarter surveyed (27%) give President Obama a grade of “A” or “B” for his performance in support of public schools. That’s down nearly 15 points from three years ago.
  • We have more fait in our local school systems. Half gave their local schools an “A” or a “B.” But when asked about our nation’s schools as a whole, only 17% give similar grades to ‘Merica.
  • As we hear more about the “federal role” in education, the public is starting to absorb it. More than half (56%) said their local school board should have the greatest influence on what is being taught (a big surprise to this former school board chairman who found that the vast majority wanted the school board out of such decisions, and to just focus on the basics like funding). Only 15% though the federal government should have the most influence (and we would ask who actually thinks the feds have much influence at all, let alone the most, on what happens in our local schools.)
  • More than half (54%) do not think standardized tests are helpful to teachers (though I am guessing they are talking about high-stakes, summative tests, and not the formative or interim assessments that even teachers say they want).
  • On the controversial issue of Common Core State Standards, 81% of those surveyed have heard of CCSS, up from about two-thirds last year. And six in 10 say they oppose CCSS. The biggest reason? Standards limit the flexibility of teachers ot teach what they think is best (not the testing issue we hear so much about).
  • And in those further depressing stats, only 30% were familiar with PISA. Only half believe that American students perform below the level of other students around the globe.

What do we take away from all of this? To be kind, we don’t know what we don’t know. Public school performance and President Obama’s education positions have been relatively unchanged in recent years, yet we see huge swings in what we think of both of those today. At a time when most school board meetings go unattended and few can even name who sits on their local board of ed, we now place the greatest trust (and presumed power) in the hands of those unsung officials. We lack an understanding of assessment literacy, and are now equating everything we’ve heard about “high-stakes testing” to anything that bears the name “test.”

And let’s not forget that, while we may have these positions, they still aren’t strong enough for us to act on them. Education policy remains one of those issues that we are all concerned with, until it is time to head into the voting places. We may believe our nation’s schools are headed into the crapper, but we still elect the same federal, state, and local policymakers to oversee those schools. And while we may be concerned about teachers not being able to teach what they think is best under CCSS, other surveys show we are enthusiastic in taking away their tenure and job protections, the very things that may allow them the power to actually do what they think is best in the classroom.

Yet the PDK poll is an important measure for understanding the populace’s temperature on these issues. While we are unlikely to act on them, we are seeing a steady shift that shows we are more cynical when it comes to public education in the United States. We are lest trusting. We remain fairly uninformed. And we seem content in carrying on as is.

Sigh …

 

Is Education a “Top” U.S. Issue?

Today, Gallup came out with its latest public opinion poll on the top problems in the United States. It should come as no surprise that dissatisfaction with government was at the top of the list. Whether frustrated with a do-nothing Congress, an overreaching president, or general frustration with Big Brother telling us what to do, Americans speak loud and clear that they are frustrated with government. (Of course, they are coming at it from all sides, so there is no clear fix.)

Immigration is a close second, with the economy coming in third. All of the issues we would expect to see at the top of the list for our citizenry’s general frustration.

So where is education on the list? Surely with all of the national fights over testing and Common Core and teacher tenure and everything else that is keeping edu-minded Americans up at night, concerns about our educational systems must be right up there, right?

Uh, not quite. Education comes in with a thud at number nine. It follows poverty and comes in just above the national debt. Where 18 percent of Americans say government is our top concern, and 15 percent say it is immigration, a whopping 4 percent say it is education. And that is now down a percentage point (or 20%) from last month.

Should this surprise us? No. For decades now, we’ve long realized that education is not a ballot box issue. Sure, we are all concerned about education, but it isn’t an issue that is make/break for us. We care, but not before we care about six or eight other issues first.

What do we do about this? First, we need to recognize that while many of us live in the edu-bubble, the vast majority of Americans do not.

Second, we need to be mindful of how education ties into the topics that are driving concern. Concerns about government? We see that extended in frustrations with everyone from EdSec Arne Duncan to local superintendents and principals. Immigration a concern? Especially as it relates to those kids who are stuck at the border, looking for a better life and opportunity that begins with access to our public schools. Economy a worry? How does that crosswalk with grad rates and STEM and higher education in general?

The short story is that education does not live in its own silo. It permeates each and every topic of discussion and concern that we have. If we treat “education” solely with a neat little k-12 or higher education label, we miss the bigger picture. And we lose the opportunity to draw attention to both the concerns and the solutions.

I yield the soapbox …

 

Parent Survey (or Statistics are Dangerous)

We began the week reflecting on an AP poll on parent sentiments about public education.  As we roll into hump day, we now have the 2013 edition of the Gallup/PDK poll of “what Americans said about the public schools.

This year’s Gallup/PDK highlights:
* As we’ve heard for decades, most Americans give the public schools a “C” grade, but give their own schools an “A” or “B”
* 62 percent of parents have never heard of Common Core State Standards
* 36 percent believe increased testing has hurt school performance, 22 percent say it has helped, and 41 percent said it makes no diff at all
* 58 percent oppose using standardized test scores in teacher evals, up from 47 percent in last year’s survey
* 52 percent said teachers have a right to strike (yes, that really is a question PDK asked)
* 88 percent say their child is safe when they are in school
* 66 percent favor educating children whose parents are in the United States illegally
* Only 29 percent favor sending kids to private schools at public school expense
Overall, the survey results aren’t that big a surprise.  They seem to jive with what PDK reports annually in this survey, and they aren’t too big a deviation from what AP released earlier in the week.
What’s disappointing is how PDK decided to present this year.  One would think that a semi-intelligent human being could take a look at polling toplines and understand that when only 22 percent say high stakes testing helps school performance, the majority doesn’t believe it to be so.  Unfortunately, PDK dumbed it down a step further, putting out a “highlights” document that makes sweeping statements without providing any statistical backup,  While one can track down the supports, it is definitely a dangerous document in the hands of the wrong folks.
Some of these self-proclaimed “highlights include:
  • Common Core – “Most Americans don’t know about the Common Core and those who do don’t understand it.”
  • Standardized Tests – “The significant increase in testing in the past decade has either hurt or made no difference in improving schools.”
  • Charter Schools – “Charter schools probably offer a better education than traditional schools.”
  • Online Learning – “High school students should be able to earn college credits via the Internet while attending high school.”
  • Biggest Problem – “Lack of financial support continues to be the biggest problem facing public schools.”
Let’s just take the last item.  Per-pupil public school funding is at its highest rates ever in the history of United States public education.  Do we honestly believe that is the biggest problem facing the schools?  More so than the obscene achievement gap?  More so than a third of all fourth graders unable to read on grade level?  More so than our inability to address the needs of a growing ELL population in our classrooms?  More so than ensuring that good teachers remain in the classroom and get the support and respect they need?
They again, sometimes poll results are just poll results.  But looking at the latest PDK release, Eduflack is left with two thoughts.
“A little information is a dangerous thing.” Albert Einstein
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Mark Twain