Americans are divided over much in public education, including whether it's fair to use test scores to rate teachers and whether children of illegal immigrants should be able to attend school for free.
The biggest single issue undermining schools is lack of funding, according to the 2012 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll released this week on a range of issues in public education.
"Lack of financial support trumps everything. People get it," said Lily Eskelsen, a Utah elementary teacher who is also vice president of the National Education Association.
"I am seeing higher class sizes, kids that don't have proper textbooks, technology and support staff," she said.
Respondents in the annual poll were asked questions from school finance to the common core curriculum and from their confidence in teachers to what should be done about bullying.
They want teachers prepared "at least" to the level of professionals in engineering, business, law and medicine. They also agreed that neither high school graduates nor dropouts are prepared for what they will face in the workplace.
Fifty percent say the common core curriculum (adopted by 45 states) will improve the quality of education; 40 percent expect it will have no effect and 8 percent say it will decrease quality. More than half of respondents (52 percent) want teacher evaluations to include student test scores.
Ten years ago, the biggest issue (39 percent) in public education, according to Gallup, was discipline, violence and drugs. This year, 35 percent say it is funding compared to 14 percent worried about violence, discipline and drugs. And among parents of public school students, the percentage jumped to 43 percent, creating what the pollsters said was a "significant shift" in what the public sees as undermining public education.
Pollsters also "sensed a hardening of viewpoints on public education," often aligned to a political party, Bill Bushaw, executive director of PDK International, said in a conference call with reporters.
"America is divided if children of immigrants who enter the country illegally should receive a free education; they are divided on vouchers and clearly are divided on which political candidate will be more supportive of public education," he said.
For the first time in at least five years, those in favor of charter schools dipped slightly; 66 percent said they prefer charters, compared to 70 percent in 2011. In the same time period, those who think students should be able to attend private schools at public expense (vouchers) jumped 10 percentage points to 44 percent.
Gallup polled 1,002 adults by phone in May and June. Respondents were chosen randomly from a Gallup pool representative of the nation's demographics. The poll has margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Contact Jane Roberts of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., at firstname.lastname@example.org.