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Gallup poll shows conflicting results about education in the United States

Compiled by Celia R. Baker

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 12:10 p.m. MDT

Gov. Tom Corbett calls on a student at Lincoln Charter School while answering their questions in the library before a public event in the gymnasium where he announced his education reform agenda Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, in York, Pa. Citing Pennsylvania's high dropout rates, Corbett on Tuesday promoted taxpayer-paid vouchers as the ticket to a better education for low-income students in the state's worst-performing school districts as he detailed a broader plan to improve and reshape public education in Pennsylvania.

Marc Levy, Associated Press

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Gallup's annual work and education poll shows that a majority of Americans say they are dissatisfied with public education but respond more positively when rating the schools their children attend.

The poll asked Americans to rate the quality of education students receive. According to the results, 78 percent believe private schools provide a good or excellent education. More than 60 percent said parochial or charter schools are good or excellent.

Although public schools are attended by 83 percent of American children, more than half of those responding said they are dissatisfied with K-12 education. However, when parents were asked to rate the schools their children attend, the response was different. Seventy-five percent said they are satisfied.

The Gallup organization explains the apparent conflict by saying that parent dissatisfaction with American K-12 education is "probably not a commentary on their own child's school and schools in their local area … rather, Americans may just have a general sense that U.S. public education is not where it needs to be." Negative parental attitudes are likely based on media reports that American students' academic skills lag in comparison to students in other countries, according to Gallup.

Diane Ravitch, author of "The Death and Life of the Great American School System," sees the poll as part of "an unprecedented, well-funded campaign to demonize public schools and their teachers, " as quoted in The Washington Post's blog "The Answer Sheet."

In Ravitch's view, the poll shows that "the corporate reform movement has succeeded in increasing support for vouchers, but the American public continues to have a remarkably high opinion of the schools and teachers they know best despite the concerted efforts of the reformers to undermine those beliefs."

School voucher programs continue to grow, though, allowing more American students to attend private schools using public funds. In Louisiana, a school voucher program was expanded this year. This fall, 1 percent of the state's students will be attending private or church schools on state-funded vouchers, and the number is expected to increase, according to nola.com.

PDK International, which sponsored the poll, said that despite providing conflicting results in several areas, the poll showed clear preferences in others. Seventy-five percent of Americans believe common core state standards will improve consistency in the quality of education across the country, and 53 percent believe common core standards would make U.S. education more competitive globally.

Respondents were clearly in favor of improving the nation's urban schools, and 62 percent said they would pay more taxes to do so. Closing the achievement gap between white and minority students was rated as somewhat or very important by 89 percent of Americans.

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