August 28, 2017

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Supporting What Matters: As schools reconvene, will Congress support public education, mirroring public opinion?

Guest blog post by AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech

The end of summer means the start to another school year. It means time for this year’s annual PDK poll. Each year, for the last 49 years, PDK has polled the public’s attitudes toward public schools, and each year, the results are a telling insight to shifts and mainstays as it relates to public support for public schools. This year is no exception.

When it comes to our nation’s schools, the overarching message from the public remains steady: academic achievement isn’t the only mission, and as such they support investments in career preparation and personal skills. Much like the shift from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was about clarifying that a child is more than a test score, this year’s results echo the idea that a child’s education is more than just academics. 

This summer, AASA launched its ‘I Love Public Education’ campaign, a year-long effort to highlight why public schools are essential to developing the future generations that will maintain our country’s status as a world leader. The campaign is designed to facilitate deliberate conversations and strong, meaningful actions on the efforts to bolster our schools to best support the students they serve. We are working to reshape the current national dialogue on public education to highlight the critical role public schools play as the bedrock of our civic society and their work to prepare students to be successful, contributing members of their local, national and global communities. It’s a campaign central to our work supporting public school superintendents, and it is in strong parallel to a big takeaway from the annual poll, that parents’ main concern remains wanting to ensure their children are prepared for life after they complete high school. 

The public continues to support public schools. We are all too familiar with the quick-draw that negative headlines garner for public schools. But, as the PDK poll has long documented, people support and give good grades to the schools they know. And this year? The proportion of Americans who gave their community’s public schools an A grade is at its highest point in more than 40 years of PDK polling: 15 percent of Americans gave their local schools an A, up from 9 percent a decade ago. In tandem with increased support:

  • 49 percent of Americans gave their local public schools an A or B grade, matching the average since 1999;
  • 22 percent of Americans refer to a lack of funding as the biggest problem facing their local schools;
  • Americans continue to oppose rather than favor using public funds to send students to private school (52 percent to 39 percent), and opposition rises to 61 percent when the issue is discussed with more nuance/detail.

School isn’t the only thing that gets back to session in September. This support for public education will prove critical as Congress returns from their summer work session (sometimes called ‘recess’). With less than 50 work days remaining in the year, there is a lot on their plate. They must address the annual appropriations process and avoid a shut down, and there is a very good chance they will have to navigate the debt ceiling debate. How can Congress invest funding in the career preparation and personal skills of students when the current funding caps are so low—below 2010 levels? Despite the public’s documented support for public schools and non-academic programming, Congress is considering eliminating ESSA Title II and deep cuts to more than a dozen other programs. Layer that on top of an administration that has prioritized investment in privatization and voucher programs—at direct odds with public opinion—and you can see how important the ‘I Love Public Education’ campaign becomes in ensuring that the voices and priorities of the public, and the public schools, are reflected in federal policy.

 

You can access my full statement on the release of the PDK poll here. You can access the full 2017 PDK poll here

August 28, 2017

(RESEARCH, PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLKITS, GUEST BLOGS) Permanent link

Guest Blog: U.S. Superintendents Excited About Their District's Future

This post originally appeared at www.gallup.com/poll/217088/superintendents-excited-district-future.aspx and is posted here with permission.

Guest Blog by Tim Hodges, Gallup

Download the full report for free here: www.gallup.com/reports/217103/gallup-k-12-superintendent-report-201708.aspx

K-12 students returning to class this fall are being welcomed back by leaders who are optimistic about the future of their school district. Eighty-five percent of U.S. public school district superintendents agree or strongly agree that they are excited about their district's future. These attitudes are largely unchanged from 2015, when 86% responded positively to the same question.

While school leaders are largely positive about their local situation, this optimism is much harder to find in their opinions of the overall K-12 public education system. About one in three superintendents agree or strongly agree that they are excited about the future of U.S. public education, down sharply from 44% just two years ago. The percentage who either disagree or strongly disagree is up from 24% to 38%, with those most negative about the future of the nation's public school system increasing from 6% to 15%.

Several factors influence leaders' opinions about the future of education. The latest Gallup survey of superintendents suggests that the most pressing challenges facing school districts are changing.

In the past four years, concern has risen among school leaders about improving the academic performance of underprepared students, and this is now the top concern of those tested. Fiscal challenges remain a significant source of concern for superintendents, as was the case in 2013. Superintendents also report high levels of concern about the effects of poverty on student learning (a question asked for the first time in 2017). Complete results for all issues tested this year appear at the end of this article.

At the same time, concern about meeting rising demands for assessment from the state and federal level has moved down in the rankings. Possibly related to this, revamping curriculum is also less of a concern for school leaders than it was in 2013 -- a time when the Common Core State Standards and new federal legislation increased attention on student assessments.

Bottom Line

Public school superintendents begin the new school year optimistic about their own local district, although they are less confident in the nation's schools overall. Local district leaders still struggle to manage difficult fiscal situations and are increasingly focused on the challenges of reducing achievement gaps for underperforming students and addressing the needs of students in poverty. These and other challenges will continue to have the attention of leaders as the nation's students return to school.

About the Study

Gallup developed this research study of K-12 superintendents of public school districts in the U.S. to understand their opinions on important topics and policy issues facing education. Since 2013, Gallup has conducted the survey at least annually. The 2017 report addresses a variety of issues, including:

  • the workplace engagement of superintendents
  • human capital needs in the district, such as recruiting, selecting and retaining talented teachers and principals
  • factors in teacher performance evaluations
  • federal, state and local education policy issues
  • superintendent-board relations

The full report is available for download here.

SURVEY METHODS

This survey is an attempted census of U.S. public school district superintendents. Gallup used a purchased sample list of 12,432 K-12 school districts across the U.S. to email their superintendents to invite them to participate in a web survey. Gallup conducted 2,326 web interviews from June 15-July 9, 2017, achieving a 19% response rate. The sample of superintendents was weighted to correct for possible nonresponse bias by matching the obtained sample to targets for all U.S. school districts from the National Center for Education Statistics database on district enrollment, geographical region and location of the district in a city, suburb, town or rural area. The weighted sample thus can be projected to represent public school district superintendents nationwide.