Annual Poll Tells Us What the Public Thinks of Education

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Every year for the past thirty-seven years, Phi Delta Kappa (PDK), America’s predominant professional education organization, has conducted a public opinion poll in conjunction with the Gallup organization.

This poll measures the public’s attitudes and opinions regarding the Nation’s public schools.

The results of this year’s poll have just been released, and since I serve as the Treasurer of the Walden University PDK Chapter I am fortunate enough to get an early preview of the poll’s conclusions.

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I have always held a certain reticence toward accepting the validity of such polls, but this poll seems to me to have a credibility which cannot be dismissed out of hand.

It indicates that the public, although at times behind in its assessments of public education, has a strong and vested interest in the operations of its schools and in the guarantee of the success those schools should promulgate.

There are twenty conclusions extrapolated from this year’s poll ranging from general support by the public, to understanding and assessing President Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, to the debate over public versus private schools, to the achievement gap between minority and majority students, to adequate funding for public education.

The poll delves into each of the twenty conclusions with accuracy and delicacy, but the number one concern, the top conclusion which is revealed by this year’s poll is the funding problem for public education.

As the poll states, “Lack of financial support is solidly entrenched in the public mind as the major problem facing the nation’s public schools. This problem has been among the top problems mentioned for 15 straight years and has been the top problem for six years running. This year, it attracts almost twice the number of mentions of any other problem.”

What strikes me is that I can never remember a time when public education was not pressed for adequate funding.

Now, this is always a function of the immediate community, the state, and the Nation, in that order.

If there are laws which create a climate against properly funding education, there is not much that can be done.

If a state does not value public education, it will not fund it adequately.

And I sorely remember living in Naples, Florida, a community with a very large retired citizen population which voted down virtually every mil-levy tax measure to improve schools because they “no longer have children in school,” or so their argument blathered.

It would seem, however, that the public now realizes the absolute necessity of proper funding of public education since measurable facts have established that our students are not mastering fundamentals as well as their predecessors did, or even as well as their counterparts in other industrialized nations.

Well over a decade ago, in the November 1993 issue of Harper’s Magazine, Benjamin Barber published an indicting article, entitled “America Skips School:

Why We Talk So Much About Education and Do So Little”.

In his opening remarks he observed the following factual events as schools were to open for Fall, “On September 8, the day most of the nation’s children were scheduled to return to school, the Department of Education Statistics issued a report, commissioned by Congress, on adult literacy and numeracy in

the United States.

The results?

More that 90 million adult Americans lacked simple literacy.

Fewer than 20 percent of those surveyed could compare two metaphors in a poem; not 4 percent could calculate the cost of carpeting at a given price from a room of a given size, using a calculator.

As the DOE report was being issued, as if to echo its findings, two of the nation’s largest school systems had delayed their openings:

in New York, to remove asbestos from aging buildings; in Chicago, because of a battle over the budget.”

Barber also pointed to inadequate funding as a major problem later in his article, but it was not seen as the major impediment to good education.

The recent PDK/Gallup Poll finds that funding has emerged

as the top concern of the public in recent years and clearly explains its pre-eminence as follows: “The question asked in every year since 1969 gives those surveyed the chance to mention the biggest problem the schools in their communities face. The public is consistent and slow to change. Discipline topped the list for the first 16 years of the poll. Use of drugs then occupied the top by itself until 1991, when lack of financial support drew into a tie. Lack of financial support has been unchallenged as the top problem since 2000.”

I am certain that if you were to ask any school administrator in any part of the United States what was of highest concern for his or her district, the answer would be the same, adequate funding.

Therein lies the dichotomy of public education – the public who is served values and wants better education, but, for whatever reasons that sentiment has not found its way to the checkbook.

And the public knows it!


we here in Demopolis have a creative, hard-working administration which is always looking for newer and more creative ways to fund our educational enterprises.

Then, too, we are blessed with the Demopolis City Schools Foundation, which is again poised to issue grants to our schools for the betterment of educating our children.

There is merit in the old adage “Put your money where your mouth is,” and the PDK/Gallup Poll now tells us that the public knows we need to put up or shut up when it comes to ensuring that our youngsters nationwide receive a good education.

Dr. Arthur Ogden is the Campus Director for Alabama Southern’s Demopolis Campus and holds all his degrees in philosophy.

He can be reached at