Poll: Expectations of Sending Children to College Growing Among U.S. Parents

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by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

WASHINGTON — With an increased number of parents expecting their children to go to college, K-12 educators must focus more time and effort on how to put effective teachers in the classroom who can help turn those higher education dreams into a reality.

Such was one of several conclusions drawn during a panel discussion Wednesday on the heels of a new Gallup Poll that shows growing disenchantment with public schools, a growing belief that teacher quality matters, and parental expectations of college that far exceed the population of students who are prepared to go to college and succeed.

“Who doesn’t want access to a middle-class way of life in this country?” asked Temple University College of Education Dean C. Kent McGuire, referring to a postsecondary credential as the means to a better life.

However, McGuire said there is a “huge gap” between the number of youths who aspire to go to college versus those who will go, much less persist in college and graduate on time, as well as serious issues about how to improve teacher quality and effectiveness in a way that prepares students for the demands of college.

McGuire was one of several panelists who spoke at Gallup World Headquarters Wednesday during an event titled “School of Thought: Data-Driven Insights to Inform Education Policy.” The panel discussion followed the release of A Time for Change: The 42nd Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

In the realm of higher education, the poll found that:

n      Seventy-five percent of parents in 2010 thought a college education was very important, versus only 58 percent in 1983 and 36 percent in 1978.

n      Ninety-two percent of parents in 2010 thought their child would go to college, versus 82 percent in 1995, and 57 percent in 1982.

n      Fifty-one percent of parents believe elementary and high schools are making high school graduates better or equally prepared for work and college than when they were in school but 47 percent believe schools are making high school graduates less prepared.

“America gets it. … In order for children to have secure careers, they have to attend college,” said panelist Joanne Weiss, chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Education.

However, Weiss said, she was struck by the fact that 92 percent of America’s students — as found in a separately released Gallup Student Poll — think they are going to college.

“The reality is very different from that,” Weiss said. She said more than 20 percent of America’s K-12 students won’t graduate from high school, another 20 percent will not go to college, and another 20 percent will only go to college if they enroll remedial courses.

“So only about 30 percent will go to college prepared for college,” Weiss said. “Contrast that to how many kids think they are going to college.”

Weiss also juxtaposed two poll findings that are at odds. That is, three-fourths of all parents give their children’s school an A or a B, but only 18 percent believe the nation’s schools as a whole deserve an A or B.

“Both of these things can’t be true,” Weiss said.

One of the most troubling findings of the poll is that roughly four out of 10 parents would enroll their children in a different school if cost were not a factor.

“When 40 percent of your customers say, ‘If I could go somewhere else, I would,’ that is a concerning problem for this field,” said panelist Andrew Rotehrham, co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit that deals with improving the achievement of low-income students through education policy reform.

“If you don’t solve that, it’s all going to become very academic,” Rotherham said of the poll that showed parental discontent with public schools.

Dr. Jerry Weast, superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, said the Gallup poll is important for educational administrators, policymakers and others concerned with bringing about school reform.

He said he used Gallup methodology over a decade ago for a systemwide survey that found students felt largely disengaged and teachers felt largely unsupported.

Efforts were made to get better teachers and make the curriculum more engaging, Weast said, and today the Montgomery County Public Schools system has one of the highest high school graduation rates for Black and Latino males in the nation, as noted in a recent Schott Foundation report on the subject of public education and Black males.

“Listen to the Gallup Poll,” Weast said. “People are telling us they want their kids to go to college.”

McGuire said in an interview after the panel discussion that in order for K-12 educators to make improvements in the number of students who go on to college, teachers have to be given more opportunities to hone and refine their skills — much like the way lawyers and doctors get to practice with more experienced members of their professions before practicing on their own.

McGuire also said the best teachers have to be placed in the classrooms with the most challenged students. Instead, he said, “We race them through college in four years. We throw them in the classroom with little or no support at all.”

“We need to put our most competent and skillful teachers with kids who come with the greatest challenges,” McGuire said. “We do the reverse.”

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