Ranks of public school supporters are growing

Education Secretary DeVos has been anti-public schools.
Education Secretary DeVos has been anti-public schools. AP

A new poll from Phi Delta Kappa shows satisfaction with American public education at a 40 year high. 71 percent of public school parents give their children’s schools an A or B. Since nine out of 10 American children attend public schools, that’s a widespread thumbs up.

It’s also surprising, especially after years of public education bashing from “reformers” and the frank negativity from Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, a supporter of private schools and vouchers and a critic of public education, calling it a “dead end.”

Nat Malkus, deputy director of education policy programs at the free-market think tank American Enterprise Institute speculates that the administration’s proposed budget cuts and increased voucher funding may have “engendered a backlash resulting in increasing defense of traditional public schools…and may have made conservatives more vocally supportive of their public schools.” Indeed, the largest increase in support is from Republicans and conservatives, who in a recent Gallup poll went from 32 percent to 43 percent supportive of public education this year.


The PDK poll shows that legislators are out of step with the public on education issues generally.

Parents do not have the same faith in standardized testing as the administration does. A majority of those polled said that standardized tests are a poor way to evaluate children and schools.

They also support diversity in schools and want their children to get a rigorous academic education with access to extracurricular activities, art, music, and school-based health and dental services.

More than 80 percent of respondents say interpersonal skills are important for children to learn at school. The same number want public high schools to offer career skills classes and certificate or licensing programs that help students find jobs after graduation.

The growing emphasis on vocational training has implications for school districts planning new high schools. In many larger districts, academic high schools far outnumber technology or vocational schools that they share. Students who want to take vocational courses for part of their school day lose time traveling back and forth. Schools that combine both solve that problem.

The high school where I work is a comprehensive one with the academic wing physically connected to the technology center. When I stand outside my English classroom, I can wave at the culinary arts instructor down the hall. That proximity means that 81 percent of our students take at least one class in the technology center. In addition to culinary arts, they can choose building construction, health occupations, computer programming, computer repair, web page design, agriculture, cosmetology, auto mechanics, architectural design and many more career courses in real labs, kitchens and work bays.

In addition, some of our students take dual credit courses in health, criminal justice, welding, and manufacturing at the local technical college, or they do internships that guarantee job interviews once they successfully complete on-the-job training and credentialing.

Anyone who makes blanket statements that American schools are failing – as President Trump did at his Phoenix rally – doesn’t know much about what is happening in them. Visit public schools and technology centers and see for yourself the strong academic course work and career training available. Join the growing ranks of people who support public schools and believe that they are a critical part of preparing our young people for the future.

McSpadden teaches high school English in York, S.C. Email: