Public Education Ratings: U.S., Britain, Canada

by Josephine Mazzuca, PhD
Senior Staff Writer, Toronto Bureau

Public education standards in the United States tend to take a hit when compared to those of other developed nations, such as Canada and Great Britain. But how satisfied are Americans, Britons, and Canadians themselves with the quality of public education in their respective nations? Recent Gallup Polls conducted in each country* indicate that Canadians are the most satisfied with their public education, Americans are the least satisfied, and Britons are somewhat divided in their feelings toward their country's public education system.

According to surveys conducted in January through March 2003, 61% of Canadians are either "very" (14%) or "somewhat" (47%) satisfied with the public education in their country. Approximately a third of Canadians (37%) are either very or somewhat dissatisfied with public education in their country. British respondents are less positive in their feelings regarding public education, with only 49% saying that they are very (11%) or somewhat (38%) satisfied. An almost equal number of Britons (46%) expressed dissatisfaction with public education. Americans are the least satisfied of the three groups with public education in their country. While just 42% of U.S. respondents reported being very (11%) or somewhat (31%) satisfied, 57% said they are somewhat (32%) or very (25%) dissatisfied.

Regionally, there are differences in both the United States and Canada with regard to these satisfaction levels. In the United States, residents of the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southern regions are slightly more likely to say they are satisfied with public education than those in the West.

In Canada, residents of one its richest provinces, Ontario, are actually the least satisfied regionally. Residents of Atlantic Canada (which includes the northeastern provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and New Brunswick), an area that has often suffered from high unemployment and tough economic times, are the most satisfied.

In the United States and Canada, there is little difference among respondents of different political affiliations with regard to how they feel about public education in their countries. In Great Britain, however, this is not the case. Britons who express support for the Labour Party, 60% of whom are very or somewhat satisfied with British public education, are more likely than those who support the Conservative Party (42%) or the Liberal Democrats (43%) to be satisfied with public education.

Bottom Line

Recent educational trends in Canada indicate that Canadians have every right to be satisfied with public education in their country. According to Statistics Canada, "In 1990, 20% of people aged 25 to 29 in Canada had less than high school education. By 1998, that percentage had dropped to 13%. Also, between 1990 and 1998, the percentage of individuals in this age group who had university degrees rose from 17% to 26%." (See Related Sites.)

In comparison to other countries, Canada also fares well when it comes to education. Among countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), Canada boasted the highest percentage of adults with a postsecondary education in 1995 (48%). The average among countries in the OECD, whose members include the United States and the United Kingdom, was 23%.

*U.S. results are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 13-16, 2003. 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%.

Canadian results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of approximately 1,000 Canadian adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 3-9, 2003. 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%.

British results are based on telephone interviews conducted by the Gallup U.K. poll with 1,001 respondents, aged 18 and older, from across Great Britain, conducted Jan. 10-Mar. 5, 2003. 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%.


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