For the 36th year, Phi Delta Kappa starts the fall with their annual poll on American education. And probably for the 36th year as well, it appears as if the public has no idea what to think about the public schools in this country. Once again a large majority of parents in Kappa’s poll (conducted by the Gallup Organization) rate give the schools their kids attend an A or a B while rating public schools nationally average or below. Interestingly enough, people with no children in school rank schools about the same, both nationally and locally.

As it has for the past few years, the pollsters asked a lot of questions about No Child Left Behind. This year 68% of the respondents and 62% of the public school parents said they knew little or nothing about the law. But as with many issues, not knowing much about NCLB didn’t stop people from having opinions about it and for a large majority those views were largely negative.

At least that’s the way the people who wrote the executive summary interpreted the results. When you get down to the details, much depends on how a question is phrased. In my reading of the results it seems as if people held negative opinions when given a question on the concepts. When the phrase No Child Left Behind was actually included in the question, the views were more positive. People like the idea of leaving no child behind. They just don’t understand how the law of the same name works (or doesn’t work).

Of course, when it comes to polls you always need to look at who’s writing the questions and paying the bills. Kappa is a large professional organization for educators and they, as you might expect, support public education. I do give them high marks for actually publishing the results online, complete with the questions and the polling methods. They also deserve credit for this statement in the executive summary:

[R]eaders are encouraged to do their own take on the data, to measure the authors’ interpretations of the data against their own, and to draw their own conclusions. If the information provided here advances the discussion of the issues, the poll’s purpose will have been served.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we really could have a discussion of the issues?