Education Poll Finds Consensus among Americans on K-12 Learning Standards, Closing Achievement Gap - Higher Education
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Education Poll Finds Consensus among Americans on K-12 Learning Standards, Closing Achievement Gap

by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

WASHINGTON – Charter schools, free public education for the children of undocumented immigrants and work readiness among college graduates are among the top education issues on which the nation is split, according to researchers behind a new poll released this week by Gallup, Inc. and Phil Delta Kappa International.

But there is widespread agreement on the need to close the so-called achievement gap, and general support for the Common Core Standards that are meant to bring more uniformity to academic expectations in the nation’s public schools, according to the poll, formally known as the “PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools” and themed “A Nation Divided.”

At a panel discussion Wednesday at Gallup World Headquarters regarding the poll — now in its 44th year — Dr. Shane Lopez, Senior Scientist in Residence at Gallup, said one of the findings that stood out involved what he described as divergent perceptions of work readiness among the nation’s college graduates.

The finding came in a series of questions that asked if today’s high school dropout, today’s high school graduate and today’s college graduate, respectively, are ready for the world of work.

“When we asked that question, I thought people are going to say high school dropouts are not ready for work, high school graduates maybe are ready, and college graduates, everyone’s going to say they’re ready,” Lopez said. “But only half of Americans said college graduates are ready for work. That’s a problem.”

The answers to poll question to which Lopez was referring are actually a bit more nuanced.

Polled individuals were asked to indicate on a five-point scale – with 5 indicating that you “strongly agree” and 1 indicating that you “strongly disagree” – whether today’s college graduate is ready for the world of work.

Fourteen percent responded with a 5; and 40 percent responded with a 4, which, when taken together as agreement, totals 54 percent, which is somewhat higher than “half.”

Then, 29 percent responded with a 3, which signifies neutrality or ambivalence.

Only 10 percent responded with a 2 and 7 percent responded with a 1, meaning that only 17 percent – not quite the “one in five Americans” that a Phi Delta Kappan magazine article said don’t believe today’s college graduates are ready for work.

There was a lack of diversity among polled individuals. More specifically, the poll tilted heavily toward White, college-educated individuals.

For instance, 62 percent of the 1,002 polled individuals were college-educated, well beyond the 38.32 percent of adults in the U.S. with college degrees.

Lopez, the Gallup scientist, conceded that people who have higher education were “oversampled.”

“From night to night it’s a challenge with this type of poll,” Lopez said. He said polled individuals had more education and were more Democratic “than we would like.”

Also, it turns out, the 65 percent referred to as college-educated in the poll included 224 individuals who have some college education and 471 who completed college.

“The total college completed (number) of 471 is slightly higher percentage wise than the U.S. population completion rate,” conceded Valerie J. Calderon, a Gallup consultant, adding that the data were weighted to reflect completion rates in the U.S.

Further, only 73 of the polled individuals were African-American and only 63 were Hispanic, significantly less than the 13.1 and 16.3 percent of the population that African-Americans and Hispanics represent, while 881 were White, according to Calderon.

“It is a valid concern that those who might be traditionally underrepresented have their voices heard appropriately,” Calderon said in an e-mail to Diverse. “Gallup did not report race/ethnicity sub-group data since these populations were not in large enough numbers to do so.

“However, they were strong samples for weighting and thereby generalized to represent the total population.”

Diverse was not alone in approaching the poll with a healthy degree of skepticism.

Two panelists said they thought the public probably didn’t know enough about the Common Core Standards to intelligently answer questions about whether the standards are likely to improve the quality of education.

Nationally, 50 percent said they thought the standards would improve quality, 8 percent said they thought the standards would decrease quality, 40 percent said they thought the standards would have no effect and 2 percent said they didn’t know.

“People will answer any question when a pollster calls them up,” said panelist Andre J. Rotherman, Co-Founder of Bellwether Education Partners. “What we may be getting is more of a gut check on a question like that.”

“My question is how many Americans have actually read the Common Core Standards or know anything about them?” said panelist Dr. Rick Ginsberg, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Kansas. “If it was one percent I’d be shocked.”

Criticisms aside, the poll still helps illuminate contemporary American thought on some of the pressing education issues of the day, including whether to provide free public education, school lunches and other benefits to children of immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

On that question, 41 percent favored doing so and 58 percent opposed. For historical perspective, the nation is more favorable to doing so than it was in 1995, when the poll found that only 28 percent favored doing so and 67 percent opposed.

On the issue of charter schools, 66 percent favored and 30 percent opposed, indicating less support than last year, when 70 percent favored charter schools and 27 percent opposed.

“As you might imagine, we wondered why,” said Bill Bushaw, Executive Director at PDK International. “The answer is Democrats,” he said, echoing a Kappan article that says: “In the past, support for charter schools has been apolitical, but this year we noted that Republicans were more supportive (80%) than Democrats (54%).”

Panelist John Jackson, President and CEO of The Schott Foundation for Public Education, said while themes of division emerged in the poll, “I think it’s important that we focus on our commonalities.”

One such commonality concerned the achievement gap. When polled individuals were asked if they believed the achievement gap could be narrowed substantially while maintaining high standards for all children, 84 percent said yes and 15 percent said no, slightly better than in 2006 when only 81 percent said yes and 17 percent said.

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