Survey affirms what we saw last year. Georgians prefer local control over failing schools.

Interesting results tonight from the latest annual Phi Delta Kappa International Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, a respected survey in its 49th year.

This year, PDK also went deeper in two states, Georgia and New York. I asked why Georgia and New York were chosen.

The national findings show growing support for curriculums that integrate job skills, a likely byproduct of parents worrying about their children's ability to navigate a STEM-oriented job market.

Here is the official summary of what Georgia residents said about their schools. I bolded what I consider key findings:

These findings are just part of the first-ever state surveys conducted along with the latest annual Phi Delta Kappa International Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, the defining public opinion survey on American public education for the past 49 years. For 2017, in addition to its annual national survey, PDK conducted companion surveys in Georgia and New York state. The state surveys were made possible with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The companion surveys provide a great measure of whether residents in Georgia and New York  reflect -- or differ from -- the prevailing national sentiment on education issues. For example, in Georgia, adults split 48% to 47% in favor of using public funds for private school tuition. Nationally, that idea draws less support with 52% opposing vouchers and 39% supporting them.

In a related finding, allegiance to traditional public schools is lower among parents in Georgia than in the country overall. If cost and location were not issues, just 27% of Georgians would pick a traditional public school compared to 34% nationally. (The survey question cited four types of school, traditional, charter, religious and private.)

In another finding, 57% of adults in Georgia said local districts should be responsible for dealing with failing schools compared to 48% of the national respondents. That issue has been particularly contentious in Georgia where voters rejected a proposal last year to allow the state to take over failing schools.

And while support for career and job skills classes is broad everywhere around the country, it's particularly so in the Peach State. A greater share of Georgians say there should be more of these kinds of classes (62% in Georgia versus 51% nationally). Nearly nine in 10 say public high schools should offer such classes even if it means those students spend less time on academics. And nine in 10 also want the public high schools to offer certificates or licenses for specific fields.

"The residents of Georgia want a balance," noted Joshua P. Starr, the chief executive officer of PDK. "There is a clear perception that the education community's emphasis on academics as the sole indicator of school quality has gone too far, and the public wants a course correction."

Here are additional findings:

•Among six aspects of school quality, student performance on standardized tests ranks lowest in importance as a contributor to school quality. Twice as many Georgians -- eight in 10 or more -- say technology and engineering classes, advanced academic classes, and helping students learn skills such as cooperation, respect, and persistence are highly important.

•A substantial majority of parents in Georgia (71%) give either an "A" or "B" grade to the school their own child attends, but just 26% give similarly high grades to public education in America. Atlantans rate their local schools more negatively than other Georgians, a response that echoes in big cities across the country.

•There's broad backing in Georgia -- as in the rest of the nation -- for public schools offering wraparound support services for students who don't have access to them elsewhere. Tops are after-school programs (94%) and mental health programs (86%), followed by health care (81%), and dental care (71%). Moreover, three-quarters of Georgians say the public schools are justified in seeking additional public funding to offer such services.

"The bottom line in Georgia is that the public supports the academic mission, but they also want local schools to position students for their working lives after school, including programs to develop interpersonal skills," Starr said.

PDK has surveyed the American public every year since 1969 to assess public opinion about public schools. Langer Research Associates of New York City produced the 2017 national and state surveys. The Georgia survey is based on telephone interviews -- in English or Spanish -- with 633 adult residents. The margin of sampling error is ±5.5 percentage points for the full sample, including the design effect. Error margins are larger for subgroups such as parents of school-age children. Additional poll data are available at www.pdkpoll.org.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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