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.
With day one of the 2013 Education Nation Summit in the books, and day two offering up a terrific array of speakers, one has to be impressed. Throughout yesterday’s program, participants heard from many of the nation’s leading education voices — superintendents, national organization heads, entrepreneurs, innovators, and all-around visionaries.
There is no question about it. One of Eduflack’s greatest professional honors was representing the families of Falls Church, VA on its school board. As chairman and vice chair of the board during my tenure, I am enormously proud of what we were able to, particularly in navigating difficult budgetary times by doing our best to keep cuts from impacting the classroom.
Down in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal has offered an education reform package that leaves most other state reform packages in the dust. Eliminate tenure. Overhaul how teachers are paid. Offer families vouchers to send their kids to private and parochial schools.
Earlier this week, the Falls Church City Council honored dear ol’ Eduflack for his “dedicated service” on the Falls Church City School Board, noting “the City is grateful for your serving the students of the City and making the City of Falls Church Public Schools one of the highest-ranking school systems in the United States.”
In the era of No Child Left Behind, we’ve heard a great deal about how local school boards have no productive role in 21st century education. Some see the power shifting toward the states and the federal government, with school boards simply left to rubber stamp what comes from on high. Others, like the Fordham Institute’s Checker Finn, seem to think such boards are just a breeding ground for political wannabes or former district employees with an axe to grind.