Excerpts from the Wall Street Journal
What the Public Thinks of Public Schools
By PAUL E. PETERSON
According to the just released Education Next poll put out by the Hoover Institution, public assessment of schools has fallen to the lowest level recorded since Americans were first asked to grade schools in 1981. Just 18% of those surveyed gave schools a grade of an A or a B, down from 30% reported by a Gallup poll as recently as 2005. . .
It's little wonder the public is becoming uneasy. High-school graduation rates are lower today than they were in 1970. The math and reading scores of 17-year-olds have been stagnant for four decades. . .
You cannot fool all the people all the time, President Lincoln said. And when it comes to student learning, the public seems beyond deceit. When asked how many ninth graders graduate from high school in four years, the public estimated that only 66% of students graduated on time—slightly less than the best available scholarly estimates.
When asked how American 15-year-olds compare in math with students in 29 other industrialized nations, the public did not fool itself into believing that the U.S. is among the top five countries in the world. Those polled ranked the U.S. at No. 17, just a bit higher than the No. 24 spot the country actually holds.
In another sign of declining confidence, the public is less willing to spend more money on public education. In 1990, 70% of taxpayers favored spending "more on education," according to a University of Chicago poll. In the latest poll, only 46% favored a spending increase. That's a 15 percentage point drop from just one year ago when it was 61%.
But when it comes to actual dollars spent per pupil, Americans get the numbers wrong. Those polled by Education Next estimated that schools in their own districts spend a little more than $4,000 per pupil, on average. In fact, schools in those districts spend an average of $10,000.
The public also dramatically underestimates the amount teachers in their state are being paid. The average guess in 2007 was around $33,000—well below actual average salary of $47,000 across all states. When told the truth about teacher salaries, support for the idea that they should get a salary increase plummeted by 14 percentage points. . .
Over $100 billion of the stimulus package went to K-12 education, doubling the federal contribution to school spending. A powerful public-school lobby will fight fiercely to keep federal aid to education at these historic highs.