Tucked into a New Yorker article by Jill Lepore about the wave of school board fights over just about everything was a stat that caught my eye. Despite all the ink spilled lately about clashes over masking, critical race theory, and which books to allocate (or ban), American parents are generally satisfied with their children’s education. Lepore explains:
In “Making Up Our Mind: What School Choice Is Really About,” educational scientists Sigal R. Ben-Porath and Michael C. Johanek point out that about nine out of every ten children in the United States attend public school, and the vast majority majority of parents – about eight in ten – are happy with their children’s schools.
Although I’m quite happy with my kids’ public school, being surrounded by parents who are usually happy with their kids’ public schooling and when I was a kid, going to a public school that my parents were basically happy with was I still surprised that the number was so high.
I would have thought the latest parent satisfaction numbers would be lower because of all the pandemic-related chaos. But according to Gallup, which has measured school satisfaction annually since 1999, by 2021 73 percent of parents of school-age children say they will be satisfied with the quality of education their oldest child receives. More parents were satisfied in 2021 than in 2013 and 2002, when satisfaction dropped into the 1960s, and in 2019 we were at a peak of satisfaction – 82 percent – before the Covid pandemic dealt a major blow to schools.
Digging deeper into the Gallup numbers revealed that the people who seem to trigger the negative feelings toward American schools don’t have children: Overall, only 46 percent of Americans are satisfied with schools. Democrats, “women, older adults and lower-income Americans are more likely than their counterparts to say they are satisfied with K-12 education,” Gallup found. My hypothesis is that it’s a bit like the adage about Congress: People tend to like their own representatives (that’s why they send them back year after year), but tend to have a vague idea of Congress in general.
Polls by the Charles Butt Foundation show a similar dynamic is happening in Texas, a state where the book ban has been heavily publicized and where an anti-critical racial theory was signed in December. The third annual poll, which was of 1,154 adults in Texas, found:
The proportion of public school parents who give their local public schools an A or B grade has risen 12 percentage points in two years to reach 68 percent in the latest nationwide survey of public education by the Charles Butt Foundation. In contrast to the increase among parents, there is a decrease in school ratings among those without a child currently enrolled in K-12 schools. Forty-eight percent of non-parents now give their local public schools A’s and B’s, up from 56 percent a year ago.
This is not to say that our education system is generally running perfectly. There are so many ways it can improve, especially by helping students in schools with higher poverty rates and those with physical disabilities and learning differences. But it does mean that we should take stories with a grain of salt when they present the American education system as a fact-free zone, no longer focused on educating the grassroots, that parents flee or should flee from in any significant or sustainable way.