September/October 2019

Successes and challenges

By Thomas E. Bertrand

Since 1969 PDK International has surveyed Americans to assess public opinion about educational issues. In August, PDK released the latest poll results. The results allow school leaders to separate in John Draper’s words, “the ‘truth’ from the ‘talk’ about public education.” 

The truth is that some key themes emerged from this year’s survey results that underscore the good work happening in our public schools. 

Americans continue to give high marks to the schools that their children attend. This year, 76% of public school parents gave their oldest child’s school a grade of A or B. The percentage of adults giving their local schools a failing grade has never reached double digits. 

An overwhelming number of teachers (94%), public school parents (77%), and adults (75%) surveyed all said that a student’s improvement over time is a better way to assess school quality than the percentage of students who pass a standardized test at a given time. This is not news to those who believe that our children are “more than a score.”

The results also underscore some of the challenging issues facing our public schools. 
Parents and teachers struggle with finding the best approach to school discipline issues. Both groups feel school discipline is not strict enough, but also acknowledge that mediation and counseling are the most effective means when dealing with student misbehavior.
Teachers’ feelings about their profession may be contributing to the shortage of educators. Teachers surveyed expressed frustration with poor pay, underfunded schools, and working conditions. One half of the teachers surveyed seriously considered leaving their jobs in recent years. This data should give all of us pause. 

While our country seems to be increasingly polarized on a number of issues, most Americans would agree that public education is vital to our democracy. It is more important than ever that school leaders lead with the truth about the successes of and challenges facing our schools.

On behalf of the two million children in Illinois’ public schools, thank you for answering the call to board service and for your recognition of the importance of a healthy, successful public school system.

Thomas E. Bertrand, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Illinois Association of School Boards.