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Survey: US parents prefer public schools to other choices

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(July 24, 2013) A new nationwide survey shows that parents overwhelmingly believe that strong neighborhood public schools are a better choice for our children than vouchers or charter schools.

“Parents believe that public schools are the single most important institution for their community and for the nation,” said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan. “This survey shows that 77 percent of American parents support public schools, an opinion that cuts across political and class lines.”

In contrast to the direction that politicians have pointed education reform in Louisiana, most parents trust teachers, principals and other parents—not politicians and business executives—to have the right ideas for their schools. And, by a 2 to 1 margin, parents say we need elected officials who can work with teachers unions instead of demonizing them.

Public school parents also soundly reject the austerity-driven policies being pushed in schools. More than two-thirds of parents see the following as reducing the quality of public education: teacher and staff layoffs; increased class sizes; school closings; high turnover rates; and cutbacks in art, music, libraries and physical education. And a 57 percent majority feel there is too much emphasis on testing today.

The survey is a rebuke to self-proclaimed education experts who hail from business and political backgrounds. “Increasingly,” the survey report notes, “key education decisions at the state and local level are being made by elected officials and business leaders. However, low percentages of parents have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in local officials (37%), their governor (39%), or business executives (33%) to have the right education ideas. Instead they express confidence in parent organizations (70%) and educators—both principals (77%) and teachers (81%)—to know what is best for schools.”

“Clearly,” Monaghan said, “the market-based strategies that pass for reform in Louisiana are not supported by most American parents.”

The survey was conducted July 9-14, 2013, by Hart Research Associates. Pollsters interviewed 1,003 parents living in urban, suburban and rural areas and who identify themselves as Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

It was released as the American Federation of Teachers announced a major effort at the AFT TEACH conference in Washington, D.C., to partner with parents and community to reclaim the promise of public
Highlights of the nationwide parent poll:

• Best approach for improving education: 77 percent said the focus should be on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in his or her community; just 20 percent said there should be more public charter schools and vouchers.

• Offer variety of subjects or devote more time to reading and math: 74 percent said it is important for schools to offer a well-rounded curriculum, including art, music and physical education; only 18 percent said schools should focus more on teaching reading and math and spend less time on subjects less important for success in college.

• Focus on the “whole child” or stick to the basics: 54 percent said schools should focus on teaching the whole child, including his or her emotional and social development as well as academics; 35 percent said schools should focus on teaching basic academics.

• Emphasis on testing:

57 percent said there is too much testing; 29 percent said there is the right amount; and 8 percent said there is not enough.

64 percent said their state’s standardized tests do not accurately measure student achievement; 28 percent said they do.

59 percent of parents said their child has felt worried or anxious about taking standardized tests.

57 percent said testing has taken away too much time from teaching and learning.

• Overwhelming parental support for the following elements of an education agenda: Provide extra resources to turn around struggling neighborhood schools; hold charter schools accountable; provide more support/training for struggling teachers; expand/improve new-teacher mentoring; reduce class sizes, especially in the early grades; make public schools hubs of the neighborhood with longer hours, academic help and health services for families; provide extra pay for teachers in hard-to-staff schools; and ensure access to high-quality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds.

• Parental disapproval of the following “reforms”:

79 percent disapprove of reducing salaries and benefits for teachers and other school employees.

76 percent object to reducing spending on regular public schools and increasing spending on charters.

61 percent oppose closing down low-performing public schools and assigning students to other schools.

60 percent reject ending additional teacher pay for advanced degrees.

58 percent disapprove of a longer school day; 53 percent oppose a longer school year.

56 percent oppose taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school tuition.
• Who has right ideas for public education: 81 percent of parents said they believe teachers have the right ideas for their public schools; 77 percent said principals have the right ideas; 70 percent gave the nod to parent organizations; 39 percent said their governor has the right ideas; 37 percent had confidence in mayors/local officials; and 33 percent said business owners/corporate executives have the right ideas.

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