Americans have long lamented the state of education in this country, but a recent Gallup poll indicates that Americans are at least beginning to restore their faith in teachers.
Seventy-two percent of those who responded to the poll said that they “trust the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools." The poll results show that people feel that there are still many problems with our education system, but these problems are more institutional than personal.
In past discussions around education, teachers were often blamed for poor student performance, leading policy makers to suggest linking student performance to teacher pay. Teachers' unions have long said that this is a harmful method of assessment that has particularly adverse affects on poorer schools, and it looks like parents are starting to agree. Fifty-eight percent of those polled opposed using standardized tests to explicitly score teacher performance, up from 52% last year.
Instead of focusing on teachers, Americans are concerned about equipping schools with the proper resources and tactics. A whopping 70% of respondents opposed using taxpayer dollars for private schools, indicating a desire to strengthen public schools instead of opting out of them completely. Additionally, more parents are supporting alternative styles of instruction and school philosophies, and are starting to question how much testing has helped make schools better.
Perhaps the most interesting finding of the poll was a distinct difference between how well people thought their own community schools were doing, and how well they thought American schools were doing on the whole. On average, the opinions of schools nationwide were much lower.
This may be due to the “horror stories” from places like Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., whose infamously failing school districts have garnered national attention. While the stories of these schools do not reflect the experience of most students in the U.S., it is important to remember these places in a national discussion on education, for it is schools in these districts who would benefit the most from systemic changes on a national scale.
One such systemic change that is being introduced is the Common Core Standards Initiative. This measure, introduced by the National Governors Association, offers a new teaching model that focuses on depth rather than breadth in covering essential school subjects, and assesses students via one common standardized test. The goal is that by having one set of high standards for public schools across the country, a majority of American students will receive quality educations. And although the measures have already been adopted by 45 states, only a third of people surveyed had even heard of Common Core. If the measures are to be successfully implemented, it is essential that parents and educators stay in the know.
These shifts in American perceptions of education appear, at least tentatively, to be in a positive direction. It’s a good sign that people have more faith in teachers, and if people continue to demand institutional reforms, it will force legislators to act. Whether or not Common Core represents a positive institutional reform remains to be seen, as it already has a healthy number of supporters and opponents. The best thing we can hope for is that any changes coming to the way Americans are educated will be changes for the better.