Slim Majority Dissatisfied With Education in the U.S.

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Most parents think children's school properly emphasizing key subjects

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- As children across the United States begin another school year, a recent Gallup Poll shows that a slim majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the quality of education in the country, a change after a slightly more positive rating last year. As usual, though, parents of children in kindergarten through grade 12 are overwhelmingly satisfied with the education their own children are receiving. Two in three parents say their child's school is placing the right amount of emphasis on reading and English and math. In fact, a majority of parents believe their child's school is appropriately emphasizing all but one of 11 subject areas or activities tested in the poll (foreign language being the one exception).

Gallup's Aug. 8-11 Work and Education Poll finds 46% of Americans are satisfied and 51% dissatisfied with "the quality of education students receive in kindergarten through grade 12 in the U.S. today." Those numbers are more negative than last year, when 53% were satisfied, but generally in line with what Gallup has measured in recent years. The recent low point was a 61% dissatisfaction rating in 2000, but typically just half or more of Americans have expressed dissatisfaction.

As the level of dissatisfaction with education has declined since 2000, so has its salience as an area of concern for Americans. This is understandable given the emergence of terrorism, the economy, and the war in Iraq as major issues for the country in recent years.

In October 2000, shortly before the presidential election, 17% of Americans mentioned education when asked to name the most important problem facing the country, placing it at the top of the list. Ten percent or more of Americans cited education as the country's top concern in all but two polls conducted between Jan. 1997 and Sept. 10, 2001.

That changed after 9/11. No more than 8% of Americans have mentioned education as the nation's top problem since Oct. 2001, with an average of just 5% of mentions to the question. In the recent Work and Education Poll, just 5% say education is the most important problem, placing it well behind the Iraq war (mentioned by 27%) as well as the economy in general (13%) and terrorism (10%).

Difference in Education Satisfaction by Subgroup

There are consistent regional differences in the way Americans rate the nation's education system. Namely, residents living in the West are slightly less likely to express satisfaction. Only 37% of Western residents say they are satisfied with the quality of education for school-age children, compared with 45% of those living in the South, 50% in the East, and 50% in the Midwest. Gallup has found similar regional variation in its previous data on this question.

Parents of school-age children are only slightly more positive in their evaluation of the national education system (50%) than Americans without children in school (43%).

Ratings of Own Child's Education Much More Positive

Satisfaction levels with the U.S. education system, as usual, stand in stark contrast to the level of satisfaction K-12 parents give to their own children's education. Seventy-eight percent of K-12 parents say they are satisfied "with the quality of education [their] oldest child is receiving," while only 20% are dissatisfied. Thirty-three percent say they are "completely satisfied."

These ratings have remained quite stable in the last three years, after being slightly lower in 2001 and 2002.

The poll finds parents' satisfaction with their child's education is fairly broad-based and extends to specific evaluations of different subject areas and activities. When asked if their child's school places too much, too little, or the right amount of emphasis on a variety of subjects and activities, a majority of parents say the right amount in almost every case. That includes 66% who say their child's school is placing the proper emphasis on reading and English and 65% who say the same about math. The lone exception to this general contentment comes in the area of foreign languages -- 46% say their oldest child's school places too little emphasis on these, while 42% say the right amount.

Now thinking about the school your oldest child attends, do you think there is too much emphasis, the right amount, or too little emphasis on [RANDOM ORDER]?

BASED ON 311 K-12 PARENTS

2005 Aug 8-11
(sorted by "right amount")

Too much emphasis


Right amount


Too little emphasis

NOT APPLICABLE (vol.)


No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

Reading and English

5

66

28

*

1

Math

2

65

31

1

1

Art and music

5

61

32

1

1

Sciences

5

60

31

2

2

Health

3

60

33

2

2

Composition or writing

3

60

35

*

2

History

2

60

34

2

2

Physical education

4

58

35

1

2

Sports

18

57

20

4

1

Preparing for standardized tests

18

52

24

3

3

Foreign languages

4

42

46

6

2

* Less than 0.5%

K-12 parents are more inclined to think schools are doing too little in the various areas than too much. On only two items -- preparing for standardized tests and sports -- do more than 10% say their oldest child's school is doing too much. Even in the controversial area of standardized tests, a key component for measuring school performance in President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, more parents say that their child's school spends too little rather than too much time preparing for standardized tests.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,001 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 8-11, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. 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.

For results based on the sample of 311 parents with children in grades K-12, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

27. Overall, how satisfied are you with the quality of education students receive in kindergarten through grade 12 in the U.S. today -- would you say you are completely satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied or completely dissatisfied?

Completely satisfied

Somewhat satisfied

Somewhat dissatisfied

Completely dissatisfied

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Aug 8-11

9

37

35

16

3

2004 Aug 9-11

10

43

32

13

2

2003 Aug 4-6

8

40

34

16

2

2002 Aug 5-8

7

40

32

18

3

2001 Aug 16-19

10

38

32

17

3

2000 Aug 24-27

7

29

40

21

3

1999 Aug 24-26

8

39

38

13

2

D21. Do you have any children who will be attending school in kindergarten through grade 12 this year?

Yes

No

No opinion

2005 Aug 8-11

36%

64

--

28. Thinking about your oldest child in kindergarten through grade 12, what grade will he or she be entering this fall?

BASED ON 311 K-12 PARENTS

Kindergarten-Fifth


Sixth-Eighth


Ninth-Twelfth

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2005 Aug 8-11

38

22

40

--

2004 Aug 9-11

38

21

40

1

2003 Aug 4-6

40

18

42

--

2002 Aug 5-8

40

23

36

1

2001 Aug 16-19

38

20

41

1

1999 Aug 24-26

44

25

30

1

29. Will your oldest child attend public, private, parochial or home school this year?

BASED ON 311 K-12 PARENTS


Public


Private


Parochial

Home School

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Aug 8-11

85

10

3

2

--

2004 Aug 9-11

86

7

4

2

1

2003 Aug 4-6

85

6

5

3

1

2002 Aug 5-8

89

7

2

2

*

2001 Aug 16-19

88

5

5

2

--

2000 Aug 24-27 ^

86

9

4

1

*

1999 Aug 24-26 ^

86

10

4

*

--

* Less than 0.5%

^ WORDING: Will that child attend public, private or parochial school?

30. How satisfied are you with the quality of education your oldest child is receiving? Would you say you are completely satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied or completely dissatisfied?

BASED ON 311 K-12 PARENTS
BASED ON 254 K-12 PARENTS WHOSE CHILD ATTENDS PUBLIC SCHOOL


Completely satisfied


Somewhat satisfied


Somewhat dissatisfied


Completely dissatisfied

JUST STARTING SCHOOL (vol.)



No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Aug 8-11

All parents

33

45

13

7

2

*

Public school parents

30

46

14

7

2

1

2004 Aug 9-11

32

47

15

4

2

*

2003 Aug 4-6

38

39

13

8

2

*

2002 Aug 5-8

29

39

20

7

4

1

2001 Aug 16-19

35

37

14

9

3

2

2000 Aug 24-27

31

47

12

6

4

*

1999 Aug 24-26

37

46

12

2

2

1

* Less than 0.5%

31. Thinking about your oldest child, when he or she is at school, do you fear for his or her physical safety?

BASED ON 311 K-12 PARENTS
BASED ON 254 K-12 PARENTS WHOSE CHILD ATTENDS PUBLIC SCHOOL

Yes, fear

No, do not

No opinion

%

%

%

2005 Aug 8-11

All parents

21

79

*

Public school parents

22

78

--

2004 Aug 9-11

28

71

1

2003 Aug 4-6

24

76

*

2002 Aug 5-8

31

68

1

2001 Aug 16-19

32

68

0

2001 Mar 9-11

45

54

1

2000 Aug 24-27

26

74

0

2000 Apr 7-9

43

57

0

1999 Aug 24-26

47

53

*

1999 May 21-23

52

47

1

1999 Apr 26-27

49

51

*

1999 Apr 21

55

45

0

1998 Jun 5-7

37

62

1

1977 ^

24

70

6

* Less than 0.5%

^ Gallup for Kettering Foundation


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/18421/Slim-Majority-Dissatisfied-Education-US.aspx
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