Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll Shows Positive Attitudes Toward Education

The annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll has just been released. As always, this poll does an excellent job of surveying the public’s attitude and opinions about public education. This year among the topics addressed were student learning, teacher quality and the role of the federal government in public education.

On the topic of student learning the survey results were consistent with what we have reported in several previous posts regarding the impact of deliberate practice on student progress. We were delighted to see that the public overwhelmingly believes that “effort” is more important than “natural ability” in a student’s success. As educators and parents, we need to punctuate this point with our students and children. Carol Dweck’s research on motivation demonstrates that this type of attitude about effort is critical to promoting learning. Dweck found that when students perceived intelligence as fixed and static they did not perform as well in subjects that challenged them as those students that, instead, thought of intelligence as malleable. Dweck describes this latter group of students as having a “growth mindset”, a mindset that conceives of abilities as capable of being developed through dedicated effort and consistent work.

On the topic of “Teacher Quality” we found it refreshing that 71% of Americans say they have trust and confidence in teachers.  Two out of three Americans would support their child’s decision to teach in public schools. The potential transformative impact that a teacher can have on a student is best revealed through the selection of words many citizens used to describe the teachers that had most positively influenced their lives, words like “caring”, “encouraging”, “interesting”, “personable” and “of high quality”.

Interestingly, with all of the efforts directed toward increased accountability for  schools and teachers, many of these ‘softer’ constructs go unmeasured.  Qualities like whether a teacher is caring or interesting are not as easily quantifiable as student’s test scores or assessment data.  We would do well to remember Albert Einstein’s reminder that “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

When asked about the role of the federal government in school systems, the majority of respondents indicated that decisions involving standards, curriculum and finances should be handled on a state level.  The poll also found that of the many competing public priorities, the public ranked national educational issues in the following order of importance:  improving the quality of our teachers, developing demanding education standards, improving the nation’s lowest-performing schools and creating better tests to more accurately measure student achievement.   With the introduction of the Common Core State Standards, our nation has  already begun to move toward the implementation of uniform and rigorous education standards

Next month Phi Delta Kappa will release an additional survey on what teenagers had to say about public education.  We look forward to the results.  These two companion surveys should help educators and policy makers as they think through and implement educational policies and interventions.

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