Parents Rate Schools Much Higher Than Do Americans Overall

by Frank Newport

Little change in recent years

PRINCETON, NJ -- Three in four American parents (76%) are satisfied with the education their children receive in school, compared to 45% of the general public who are satisfied with the state of schools nationwide. These findings from Gallup's annual Work and Education survey are almost identical to what Gallup found last year, and have not changed materially since 2003.


Gallup began asking about satisfaction with schools in this fashion in 1999, and since then, the percentage of Americans satisfied with the U.S. education system has ranged from a low of 36% in 2000 to a high of 53% in 2004. The average satisfaction level has been 46% -- quite close to this year's reading of 45%. There has been little change in this measure over the last five years; it has ranged only between 44% and 46%.

It is not unusual to find that Americans rate aspects of society more negatively at the national level than they do at the local level. Education is a prime example of this phenomenon. The percentage of parents who say they are completely or somewhat satisfied with their own child's education has averaged 77% since 1999, 31 points higher than the average satisfaction rating all Americans give to U.S. K-12 education.

As has generally been the case over the last 10 years, the subset of parents who have children in public schools is little different from the overall sample of parents in terms of satisfaction with their children's education.


The vast majority of K-12 children in America today attend public schools, although this has dipped slightly in recent years.


For the second year in a row, the proportion of schoolchildren who attend public schools, as measured by Gallup, is lower than the average for the years prior to 2008. In both 2008 and 2009, 81% of parents said their oldest child was in public school. The percentage was also low in 2006, but otherwise has consistently been at least 85% every year since 1999.

This year, 12% of parents say their child is going to private school, with another 3% saying their child is in parochial school.

The percentage of American parents who say their oldest K-12 child is being home-schooled has been very low since Gallup first measured home schooling in 1999. This year's 2% is exactly where it has been since 2004. Less than 1% of parents indicated that their child was home-schooled when Gallup first measured home schooling in 1999.

Bottom Line

Gallup's trends on satisfaction with education -- both nationally and among parents -- have been fairly steady over the last decade. There had been a decline in parents' satisfaction with their children's education between 2000 and 2002, with a move back up after that point. The current level of parental satisfaction, however, remains slightly below the 83% recorded in 1999. There was a low point in 2000 for the general public's satisfaction with the education of children in the U.S.; this may have reflected the emphasis on problems with schools that was part of George W. Bush's campaign for the presidency that year. After a slight uptick in satisfaction in 2004, recent years have seen a very steady trend line on this measure. Still, as is the case for parents' satisfaction, overall satisfaction with schools in this country is no higher now than it was before the 2002 enactment of the sweeping No Child Left Behind legislation.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 6-9, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 233 parents with children in kindergarten through grade 12, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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