The Atlantic

Why Americans Think So Poorly of the Country's Schools

Are public schools generally meeting Americans’ expectations? Or are they teetering on the brink of failure?
Source: Jessie L. Bonner / AP

Each year, parents responding to the Phi Delta Kappan poll report high levels of satisfaction with their kids’ education. Asked to assign letter grades to their children’s schools, the vast majority of parents—generally around 70 percent—issue As and Bs. If those ratings were compiled the way a student’s grade point average is calculated, the public schools would collectively get a B.

When asked to rate the nation’s schools, however, respondents are far less sanguine. Reflecting on public schools in general, a similar share of respondents—roughly 70 percent—confer a C or D. Again calculated as a GPA, America’s schools get a C or C-.

So which is it? Are public schools generally meeting Americans’ expectations? Or are they teetering on the brink of failure?

This may seem like an academic exercise. After all,

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