2019 Gradingschools
What Americans say about…

How would you grade the public schools?

Parents and teachers generally give pretty high grades to their local schools. Among parents, those who are Asian American, affluent, or college educated award the highest grades.

The PDK poll continues its long-standing tradition of asking the public to grade the public schools nationally and locally. Customary dichotomies emerge: Just 19% of Americans give the nation’s schools an A or B grade, while many more give an A or B to their local schools — 44% (still less than half and down from a high of 53% six years ago).

Among K-12 parents, more (60%) rate their community’s schools positively, and 76% give their own child’s school an A or B grade, up a slight 6 percentage points from last year.

2019 Percent A Or B Grades

There’s a conceptual reason for these differences: Even a few subpar schools across the nation or in one’s community are enough to bring down the aggregate national and community scores — even if one’s own school is a strong one.

Public school teachers are new to the equation this year, and they generally respond like parents in these ratings. Twenty-eight percent of teachers grade the nation’s schools A or B (as do 25% of parents). Fifty-nine percent of teachers give an A or B to their community’s schools (essentially the same as parents). And 70% of teachers give an A or B grade to the school where they work.

School ratings differ among groups, particularly at the local level. While, as mentioned, 60% of K-12 parents give their local schools an A or B grade, that falls to 40% among nonparents.

2019 Teachers Grade Schools

There are differences within the parent population, as well. Seventy-three percent of Asian-American parents give their community’s schools an A or B grade compared with 48% of Black parents (with White and Latinx parents in the middle). Higher-income and more-educated parents rate their community’s schools especially highly; these parents likely live in communities that are better able to provide their schools with financial support. Among parents with $100,000-plus household incomes, 68% give their local schools an A or B grade vs. 52% among those with incomes less than $50,000. It’s also 68% among parents who are college graduates vs. 55% among nongraduates.

2019 Parents Grade Local Public Schools Ethnicity

School ratings coincide with other perceptions. Ratings for a community’s schools soar, for example, among parents who say these schools handle discipline well and are appropriately funded.

These patterns are repeated when parents assess their own child’s school. (Those with more than one child were asked about their oldest in K-12.) Higher-income parents are 16 points more likely than those in the under-$50,000 bracket to give their child’s school an A or B, 85% vs. 69%. It’s 87% among college graduates vs. 70% among nongraduates. And 85% of Asian-American parents give their child’s school an A or B, compared with 65% of Blacks, with Whites and Latinx roughly in the middle.

2019 Parents Grade Local Public Schools Income

There’s also a difference by location; 81% of suburban parents give their child’s school an A or B, compared with 70% of urban parents. (It’s 76% among parents in rural areas.) There’s also a gap by grade: Eighty-two percent of parents whose oldest child is in grades K-5 give the school an A or B, dropping to 67% of those whose oldest is in grades 6-8. It recovers slightly to 76% among parents of high schoolers.

There are gaps, as well, among public school teachers in rating the school where they work. Seventy-three percent of women give their school an A or B; for male teachers, it’s 61%. It’s 73% among White teachers vs. 59% among those of another race or ethnicity. Seventy-seven percent of teachers who feel more valued by their community award an A or B to the school where they work compared with 62% of those who feel less valued. There are no significant differences by other factors such as teacher pay, tenure, grade, school size, and location.

Given the concept that schools should engage young learners, another, indirect way to assess them is to see if students like to go there. The results align: Seventy-two percent of parents say their child likes to attend school, which is very similar to the number who grade their schools A or B. That said, there’s room for improvement: Twenty-eight percent say their child likes school “a lot” while an additional 44% say they like it — but “mostly.”

Among parent groups, Asian Americans (85%), those whose oldest child is in K-5 (81%), and college graduates (80%) are most apt to say their child likes to go to school. Liking school is a reported 10 points higher for girls than for boys, 77% vs. 67%. Liking school is lowest among those in middle school (grades 6-8), 62%, and those who are Black, 60% — a result reflecting Black parents’ broader dissatisfaction with their child’s school.

Indeed, student engagement is strongly related to how parents assess their child’s school. Among parents who say their child likes to go to school, 85% grade that school an A or B. That plummets to 53% among those who say their child is neutral about school or dislikes it.

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