Three in four public school parents say the public schools their children attend provide them with an excellent or good education, and 79 percent of parents are satisfied with their children's public schools when it comes to helping their children achieve their full potential, according to a nationwide poll of parents released Sept. 12 by the AFT.
Parents' highest priorities for their schools are providing a safe and secure environment, developing their children's knowledge and skills, and ensuring equal opportunity for all kids, and they are deeply concerned by efforts to cut education funding. And parents favor a high-quality neighborhood public school over having more choices of schools for their children by 71 to 29 percent, with majorities of major-city parents, low-income parents, African-American parents and Latino parents favoring a neighborhood public school over more choice.
"These results match what I hear from parents and communities across the country," says AFT President Randi Weingarten. "There is zero ambiguity when it comes to what parents want for their children's education: safe and welcoming, well-funded neighborhood public schools that help children develop their knowledge and skills and ensure equal opportunity for all kids.
"Parents deeply support the public schools their children attend and are happy with the job public schools are doing. And while we will never be satisfied until every public school is a place parents want to send their children, educators want to work, and kids are engaged and happy, these results confirm the sentiment we've seen in other recent polls that show support for public education continuing to rise.
Weingarten adds, "It's striking that the agenda being pushed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to defund public education and divert resources to vouchers and other privatization schemes—even when they are cloaked as 'choice'—is completely at odds with parents' educational priorities. This is true across every race, political persuasion and area of the country. These results should serve as a clarion call to policymakers to stop defunding our schools and instead deliver on the priorities parents want, to reclaim the promise of public education for all children."
The survey, conducted by Hart Research Associates for the AFT, consisted of interviews with 1,200 public school parents and included subsamples of 233 African-American parents, 371 Latino parents, and 196 parents in major U.S. cities including Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego and San Francisco.
The results are the latest in a series of polls released this summer and fall on people's priorities for public education. Gallup released a recent survey showing support for public schools was up by 7 points compared with 2012. PDK's annual poll showed deep support for public schools and investments in wraparound services, such as mental health services and after-school programs, and resources to prepare students for successful lives and careers; it also showed strong opposition to funding vouchers for religious schools. And an Education Next poll showed public support for charter schools fell by 12 percentage points over the past year.
Key findings of the poll:
- Three in four parents (73 percent) say that the public schools their children attend provide them with an excellent or good quality education. Parents across the demographic spectrum give high marks to public schools, including African-Americans (70 percent excellent or good), Latinos (74 percent), parents in major cities (73 percent), and low-income parents (71 percent).
- Seventy-nine percent of parents are satisfied with their children's public schools when it comes to helping their child or children achieve their full potential. This includes 82 percent of parents in major cities, 77 percent of African-American parents, 80 percent of Latino parents, 79 percent of low-income parents and 82 percent of parents who have a child with a disability.
- Parents favor "a good quality neighborhood public school" (71 percent) over "more choices of which schools I can send my children to" (29 percent), with major-city parents (64 percent) and low-income parents (68 percent) supporting neighborhood public schools as well as majorities of both African-American (60 percent) and Latino (66 percent) parents.
- When asked about the priorities for the schools their children attend, parents' top responses were providing a safe and secure environment for children (68 percent said extremely important); making sure students graduate with the knowledge and academic skills to succeed in college (63 percent); ensuring that all children, regardless of background, have the opportunity to succeed (62 percent, and the top goal for African-American parents and low-income parents); and developing students' critical-thinking and reasoning abilities (62 percent).
- By a clear margin, parents identify two central challenges facing public schools today: inadequate funding (36 percent selected this as one of the top two problems), and too much standardized testing (35 percent). Parents also register concern over large class sizes (28 percent, and the highest concern for Latino and major-city parents) and lack of support for teachers (22 percent).
- When asked about trends in education they had concerns about, parents voice especially deep concern about education budget cuts at both the local (87 percent) and federal (85 percent) levels. Eight in 10 (78 percent) also register concern about shifts in funding away from traditional public schools to vouchers and charter schools. Other significant concerns among the nation's parents include increased class sizes (80 percent); layoffs of teachers (75 percent) and staff (74 percent); high teacher turnover rates (78 percent); and cutbacks in art, music, libraries and physical education to focus more on reading and math (78 percent).
- Only 23 percent approve of the job DeVos is doing, with African-American parents disapproving of DeVos' performance by 60 percent to 16 percent, and Latino parents disapproving by a 2-1 ratio (46 percent to 23 percent).
- When parents are asked about the competing ways to address schooling, the results are equally decisive. Given the choice of the following approaches, just 20 percent endorse the DeVos agenda of vouchers and charter schools (choice A below), while fully 80 percent of parents prefer a focus on good neighborhood public schools (choice B below). This includes African-American parents (76 percent), lower-income parents (80 percent), parents who live in big cities (72 percent) and Republican parents (76 percent).
- A) We should open more public charter schools and provide more vouchers that allow parents to send their children to private schools if they make that choice. Children will receive the best education if we give families the freedom to attend the schools that best meet their needs. (20 percent agree, 13 percent strongly)
- B) We should focus on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in their community. We need to make the investments needed to ensure all schools provide safe conditions, focus on children's well-being, create powerful learning environments, build teacher capacity, and foster cultures of collaboration. (80 percent agree, 60 percent strongly)
- Parents were equally clear when it came to their children's educators: Parents express the greatest confidence in educators—both teachers (79 percent said they have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence) and principals (71 percent)—and parent organizations (71 percent) to have the best ideas for public schools.
- When it comes to investments to strengthen public schools, parents favor expanding access to career and technical education and other vocational programs that prepare students for jobs (94 percent approve), reducing class sizes (93 percent), providing extra resources and support to turn around struggling neighborhood schools (93 percent), making sure school curriculums include art and music (91 percent), and providing health and nutrition services to low-income children through their public school (90 percent). Parents also voice strong support for improving mentoring for new or struggling teachers (89 percent), increasing the number of community schools (87 percent), and providing high- quality preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds (86 percent).
[AFT press release]