There is no doubt that public opinion about education has changed over the years. Phi Delta Kappa has been capturing those changing views in a yearly scientific survey since 1969. The survey is eagerly awaited by school leaders and others who are in a position to shape policy concerning education. Still, some policymakers and educators need to be made aware of the existence of this valuable and extensive survey.
Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) is an educational organization that publishes the “Kappan,” a monthly referred journal. The poll was the brainchild of two Denver-based foundation executives, Charles F. Kettering II and Edward A. Brainard. The two men enlisted George Gallup Sr. to conduct the first poll, which he did in April 1969.
The results of the poll are a random representative sample of U.S. adults. Details about the methodology and the questionnaire are shared with the public, and responses to every question are asked. All age groups, educational backgrounds, and economic, racial, and political sectors are included.
The issue results from 2003 and 2023 were compared in this particular survey. One of the most significant differences in views concerned the 4-day school week. In 2003, 74% were opposed, and in 2023, only 45% of those surveyed were opposed. Four-day school weeks have increased and gained popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sixty-two percent of adults support longer school days and longer school years. However, 26% preferred a longer school year only, and 17% chose both a more extended day and year.
Most respondents expressed compassion for teachers, 73% saying they were undervalued, 66% saying they were underpaid, and 58% saying they were overworked. The number of respondents saying teachers are underpaid was the highest since the poll began in 1969.
Women were more likely than men to say they were undervalued and overworked. Partisanship played into these numbers to a large degree.
The public is divided on the issue of the teacher shortage. Again, partisanship is revealed in the responses to these questions. Overall, only 51% see the shortage as a crisis. Those whose local districts are experiencing shortages are favored by 83% in raising teacher salaries through property taxes.
Regarding who should decide what is taught in schools, 66% believe teachers should determine that, and another 22% think they should have input. Of those who think school boards should determine what is taught, 56%. However, 14% believe they should not be involved at all. Those surveyed who supported the local residents or the governor or state legislature determining the curriculum were 41% and 33%, respectively. Those who opposed the involvement of these two groups were 27% and 35%. Partisanship was also evident in this question, with one group skewing the data and percentages to much higher.
Finally, the issue of mental health assessments was addressed in the survey. While 84% of all respondents favor assessments in some form, conditions were sharply divided. While 45% say schools should conduct such assessments only when parents/guardians request it, 39% say it should be done for all students. Again, partisanship skewed the data.
The American public is far apart in their opinions about education. The education community has a tightrope to walk to appease these opposing views. The longitudinal data collected by PDK is invaluable. Hopefully, policymakers will use the findings to inform decisions, and educators nationwide can use them to guide planning and action in their communities.
To see the complete survey, its scientific method of data collection, and how different groups answered these questions, go to https://pdkpoll.org/2023-pdk-poll-results/