The Divide Between Public School Parents and Private School Parents

by Joseph Carroll

Private school parents more positive than public school parents about their kids' education

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Parents with children who attend private, parochial, or who are home schooled are much more positive than parents with children in public school about the quality of education their children receive, and are less likely to report concerns for their children's physical safety. These results are based on an analysis of Gallup Poll data over the past four years.

Overall, Gallup's latest Work and Education poll, conducted earlier this month, finds little change in the public's satisfaction with the quality of education in the United States today -- more Americans continue to say they are dissatisfied rather than satisfied. But, in sharp contrast, parents of school-aged children (regardless of whether they attend public or private schools) are much more positive about the quality of education that their own children are currently receiving, as has been the case for the past eight years.

One in four parents say they fear for their children's safety when they are at school, a decline from last fall following the shootings at an Amish school in Pennsylvania, but about average for those years with few incidents of violence in schools. Few parents say their children express concern about their own safety at school.

Satisfaction With the Education System

The Aug. 13-16, 2007, poll finds that 46% of Americans say they are "completely" (7%) or "somewhat" (39%) satisfied with the quality of education students receive in kindergarten through grade 12 in the U.S. today, while 51% are dissatisfied.

Americans have been fairly divided in their views of the nation's education system over the past eight years in which Gallup has asked this question, but usually more negative than positive. Satisfaction was most negative in the summer of 2000, when just 36% were satisfied and 61% were dissatisfied. Americans were only more satisfied than dissatisfied once, in the 2004 poll (53% satisfied, 45% dissatisfied).

While Americans express more dissatisfaction than satisfaction with the nation's education system in a general sense, parents of school-aged children are overwhelmingly positive in their evaluations of the quality of their own children's education. This is a recurring finding in Gallup (and other) surveys, suggesting that some of the expressed angst about the nation's educational system is based on perceptions from afar, rather than on specific experience.

Among parents with children in grades kindergarten through 12 this year, 78% tell Gallup that they are "completely" (25%) or "somewhat" (53%) satisfied with the quality of education their oldest children are receiving, while only 19% say they are dissatisfied. Since 1999, the vast majority of parents -- between 68% and 83% -- have said they are satisfied with their oldest child's education.

School Safety

According to the mid-August poll, 24% of parents of school-aged children say they fear for their oldest child's physical safety when that child is at school; 76% of parents do not worry.

Parents' concerns for their children's safety has fluctuated over the past three decades -- with concerns spiking more recently following highly publicized school shootings. For example, concern was highest in the days and months after the April 20, 1999 Columbine school shooting, with an all-time high of 55% saying they fear for their children's safety in a poll conducted immediately after than incident. Most recently, following the Amish school shooting last fall, 35% of parents expressed concern. The current 24% reading is about the average Gallup has observed in polls not taken shortly after highly publicized school shootings.

Just 12% of parents report that any of their school-aged children have expressed concern about their safety at school when they return this fall. This percentage has always been quite low since Gallup first started tracking this measure in 1999. It was highest -- at 22% -- in March 2001, several days after a high school student at Santana High School in Santee, Calif. shot and killed two students and wounded 13 others.

Public School Parents' Attitudes Toward Education, School Safety

Gallup finds a large gulf between public school parents and parents of private, parochial, or home-school children in their perceptions of the quality of public education in the country. But, there is also a great difference at the more personal level with non-public school parents expressing much higher levels of satisfaction with their child's schooling, and less fear about their child's physical safety. These results are based on aggregated data from five Gallup Polls conducted from 2003 through 2007.

Overall, 56% of parents with children attending public school say they are satisfied with the state of the nation's education system overall. This compares with 31% of parents with children enrolled in private, parochial, or home schools.

 

Satisfaction With Quality of Nation's Education,
2003-2007 Aggregate

 

Parents of children attending public school

Parents of children attending private, parochial, or home school

 

%

%

Completely satisfied

11

7

Somewhat satisfied

45

24

Somewhat dissatisfied

31

35

Completely dissatisfied

13

33

     

Total satisfied

56

31

Total dissatisfied

44

68

     

N=

1,183

228

Margin of Error

±3

±7

Most parents, regardless of what type of school their children attend, say they are at least somewhat satisfied with the quality of their oldest child's education. But, non-public school parents are more than twice as likely as public school parents to say they are "completely" satisfied, by a 59% to 28% margin.

 

Satisfaction With Quality of Oldest Child's Education,
2003-2007 Aggregate

 

Parents of children attending public school

Parents of children attending private, parochial, or home school

 

%

%

Completely satisfied

28

59

Somewhat satisfied

48

32

Somewhat dissatisfied

15

2

Completely dissatisfied

7

2

     

Total satisfied

76

91

Total dissatisfied

22

4

     

N=

1,183

228

Margin of Error

±3

±7

Although most parents do not fear for their children's safety at school, public school parents (27%) express a higher level of concern for their children than non-public school parents (13%).

 

Fear for Child's Safety When at School,
2003-2007 Aggregate

 

Parents of children attending public school

Parents of children attending private, parochial, or home school

 

%

%

Yes

27

13

No

74

86

     

N=

1,183

228

Margin of Error

±3

±7

And, 12% of public school parents say their children have expressed concerns about their own physical safety at school. Only 3% of non-public school parents share this experience.

 

Child Expressed Concern About Safety at School,
2003-2007 Aggregate

 

Parents of children attending public school

Parents of children attending private, parochial, or home school

 

%

%

Yes

12

3

No

88

95

     

N=

929

171

Margin of Error

±3

±8

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,019 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 13-16, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 277 parents with children in grades K-12, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 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.

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