Poll: Confidence in schools hits new low

Only 29 percent of Americans express “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the public school system, down from 58 percent in 1973, according to a new Gallup poll.

Forty percent in the new poll had some confidence while 30 percent expressed little or none.

The survey also found record lows in public confidence in churches or organized religion, banks and TV news.

About Joanne


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Might be the web. Without the web, the nutcase el ed prin who forbade her kids singing “God Bless The USA” would only have been a local issue. Ditto the CO school who told a kid not to put an American flag on his bike for fear of offending the unidentified. Ditto the PA school with the spycam computers. The prin who didn’t note the time change and got a kid jailed for (not) calling in a bomb threat. I could go on, and the reason I could go on is the web.
    It might be like the cliche’ “We hate congress but love our own congresscritter.”
    Plus, the old days were always like in the Dick and Jane books.

  2. The younger generations are far less trusting of big institutions in general than previous generations were. My generation (Gen X) is notoriously skeptical. I think it comes from growing up with a high rate of divorce among our parents (even if our own mom & dad stayed together, many of our relatives, friends, and classmates experienced familial breakup), the political aftermath of Watergate & the Viet Nam conflict, and all the highly publicized scandals of the ’80’s and ’90’s from Iran-Contra to Monica Lewinsky to coverups of pedophile priests by certain members of the Catholic Church hierarchy and so on.

  3. I think there are millions of parents out there that realize their kids aren’t getting nearly the education that their own parents got. They fear that this is their fault and thus blame the schools.

    • I can see that the school for which my children is zoned isn’t as good as the public school I attended growing up. First off, the class size is way bigger (32 vs. 20) and that includes non-English speakers and kids with serious disabilities (who were not in mainstream classes when I was going through). Honors classes started in 5th grade for me vs. not until 11th (!) grade now. My elementary school taught phonics, grammar including sentence diagramming, literary classics, and traditional math (not the “fuzzy” math in fashion now). Test prep was minimal, maybe a few practice sessions in the days leading up to the California Achievement Test (which was given only every other year) rather than crowding out actual learning.

      I don’t think that my DH and I care less about our children’s education than my parents cared about my brothers’ and mine. The political climate is what has changed, and led to a “dumbing down” of the public schools.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Rob. Not clear. Why would parents think kids not getting a good ed is their–the parents’– fault and then blame the schools? The implication is that the parents are supposed to do the educating and the blame for the schools is illegitimate.
    I agree parents are supposed to do some serious educating, particularly the basic basics prior to kindergarten, and verbal skills, and so forth. Do you think the kinds of parents who now distrust the public schools are deficient in that, as opposed to earlier generations who did it well?

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Although as a graduate during the nadir of public education (aka the 70’s) and parent who has had to deal with edu-fads from time to time, I have to put the majority of the blame on parents. So many kids seem completely disinterested in ideas and too lazy to put forth any effort. This can only be due to either the parents disinterest/contempt for intellectual ideas, a complete abdication of the parenting role other than writing out the checks for the latest gizmo, or a combination of the two.

    DD goes to private high school mainly because of the drugs/gangs pervading the public schools. but even in private there are kids who are openly disrespectful to the teachers, and are proud of their lack of interest in school.

    My heart goes out to all of you teachers who have to deal with this.

    • Drugs in the schools is not a recent phenomenon (it’s been a problem since the late ’60’s) but gangs definitely are more of a problem in suburban schools now compared to 15 or 20 years ago. What used to be confined to inner-city schools has now spread to the ‘burbs.

    • When my kids were growing up, drugs were a significant problem in some of the DC area’s top private schools – we knew kids who attended them; even those not involved were aware of the easy availability. It wasn’t, and probably still isn’t, just a public school problem.

      • Elizabeth says:

        We live in a large city where the HSs in the area are not known for their academic performance- and the private school is small and religious based – there is not the open use/dealing I saw at my HS.

  6. Congratulations, Joanne, for helping tear teachers and public schools down. You have followed the corporate script while promoting charter schools despite the overwhelming evidence they are not that great, including your beloved Downtown Charter Prep, which rates a miserable 3 on the Great Schools website, despite being able to pick and choose students while kicking the undesirables out. You must be sooooooo proud!

    Oh, and 70% of Americans still have confidence in public schools, despite the throngs of money spent by the Billionaire Boys’ Club to tear them down.

    BTW, the CORRECT statistics are:

    The public schools 11 18 40 28 2 1 29, with 11% expressing a great deal of confidence, 18% quite a lot, 40% some, and 28% expressing very little.

    • “Corporate” has become the all-purpose boogeyman to liberals that “communist” was to conservatives during the Cold War era. Who would’ve guessed that 2 decades after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe that anti-capitalist rhetoric would be so popular here in the U.S.A.

      • No more so than conservatives have come to hate the word “public”, but the difference is the corporations have boatloads of money to buy the public’s opinions.

        • There’s nothing “public” about the public schools. Public means available to anyone. I can use the public library in the neighboring town if I like it better than the one closest to me. Ditto for the public parks, public pools, public recreation programs, etc. But if I decide that I like the public school in the neighboring town, I’m SOL even though the school gets most of its funding from the legislature (which my family pays far more than our fair share of taxes to fund) rather than local property taxes.

    • Roger Sweeny says:


      I am curious why you think corporations would want to “tear teachers and public schools down.” If the schools do their job, graduates are literate, numerate, and skilled at thinking. That gives the corporations lots of good workers to choose from when hiring.

      Most schools are paid for by state and local taxes. These are basically property, income, and sales taxes, not corporate income taxes. That’s pretty much a federal tax, going to such public services as the military and the C.I.A.

    • For anyone who’s unsatisfied with Mike’s artful editorializing on the facts, here’s the link to the poll results – http://tinyurl.com/d779v8j.

      If you look at the results unfiltered through Mike’s ideological squint you see that there’s all sorts of fascinating insights in the poll.

      For instance, if you look down to “Grading Our Children’s Schools” you see that only 1% of respondents think the schools their kids go to are failures so, Hurrah!, right?

      Not so fast.

      Just a little down the page we see that only 1% of parents would give the public education system as a whole an “A” grade.

      What a conundrum! Parents think the schools their kids go to are peachy but the system those schools are part of, sucks.

      This seeming contradiction would be worth pursuing were it not becoming increasingly clear that the dissatisfaction is what’s starting to show up at the polls. Whatever parents may feel about their school they’re no longer willing to maintain the current model of public education. Ditto for voters as a whole.

      Exciting times, hey Mike?

    • Of course that’s not the only Gallup poll that investigates public attitudes towards public education. There’s this – http://tinyurl.com/7enxrcb – interesting tidbit which has “29% (of respondents) expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in them (the public education system)”.

      That’s down from 33% just five years ago.

      Dang. That’s a trend that’ll require some really artful misrepresentation. Feeling up to the task, Mike?

      • Not at all Allen, it just means the reform crowd is good at propaganda, but the overwhelming majority think their kids’ schools are fine. In other words, their own experiences supersede the bad press bought by the reform crowd.

        • Yes, that reform crowd is good at so much. Like getting parents to line up to get their kids out of rotten district schools even though those schools are really just fine. Well, just fine if you don’t concern yourself with the lousy quality of the education and the violence. But other then that the schools are just fine and utilizing their Jedi mind tricks the reform crowd convinces parents to try to get their kids out of those schools.

  7. Allen brings up the obvious point; I didn’t even need to look at the survey to know that most parents are satisfied with their own kids’ schools, so nuts to all the nonsensical posts about the parents’ insights into their own schools.

    • And Cal tries to put the best possible spin on that item.

      Of course they’re not satisfied with their local schools because when given an opportunity they abandon them wholesale. Those poor parents are just trying avoid the fact that they’re failing their children by sending them to schools in which they have no faith.

      Thus the seeming contradiction of schools to which parents are sending their kids getting good marks and the entire institution of which those schools are part getting failing marks.

  8. A bit of a disconnect here – because Gallup also reports that 75% of Americans are “very satisfied” with their own kids’ schools, and 85% of Americans are “very satisfied” with their own education.

    Thus, people have a misrepresented opinion of “public education.” They think their kids school is great but all others are failing. This is no different than the 10% approval rating of Congress, while 92% of incumbents are re-elected. People generally approve of their reps while claiming it’s the other ones – or the other party – that is bad.