Opinion: Poll shows support for key education ideas

When there is deep division in this country about some issues, a new national poll released last week shows strong, and sometimes surprising support for several key ideas in public education.  Young people and families in Elk River/Rogers/Zimmerman area are benefitting from the way these ideas are being applied locally. The results come from the 43rd annual collaboration between Gallup, one of the nation’s most respected polling companies, and Phi Delta Kappa, a national education organization. When I look at this year’s PDK/Gallup poll results, I see three trendsemerging: Respect, empowerment and choice.
First, as a former urban public school teacher, married to a 33-year veteran of urban public schools, and parent of an urban public school teacher, I was gratified to see that two-thirds or more of Americans respect the profession since they would encourage “the brightest person you know” and“a child of yours” to become a public school teacher. While some educators feel a lack of respect, this poll found considerable support for the profession. Minnesota, and Elk River/Rogers/Zimmerman families benefit from this because for some teaching openings, there are literally hundreds of people applying.  Unlike some states that have a difficult time attracting educators, Minnesota has a surplus in some teaching areas.  In fact, some states come to Minnesota to recruit teachers.
Second, that esteem is demonstrated in the willingness of 72 percent of poll respondents to empower educators by “giv(ing) teachers flexibility to teach in ways they think best,” rather than require them “to follow a prescribed curriculum.” I hope creative, committed, hardworking teachers find these responses encouraging. Third, just as most poll respondents want teachers to be free to select materials and strategies, 74 percent support allowing families “to choose which public schools in the community the students attend, regardless of where they live.” Seventy percent also favor “the idea of charter public schools.” Poll trends show support growing for public school choice, including charters. In addition to options provided by local districts, there are several charter public schools available for families in this area. These include, for example, Spectrum High School in Elk River, Kaleiscope in Ostego and Swan River Montessori in Monticello.
Local families also benefit from a variety of “Dual Credit” options. These allow hardworking high school students to earn college credit while still in high school. Students can take these classes either in high school or on college campuses. Students can simultaneously save literally thousands of dollars in college costs, and by challenging themselves, be well prepared for college.   See www.centerforschoolchange.org/high-school-college-enrollment/index.html
The poll has just over 40 questions.  It’s online at www.pdkintl.org/poll/index.htm
Yes, there are strong and deep divisions on some issues in this country.  But this poll shows there is very strong agreement on a number of key ideas in education. These responses are consistent with empowering educators to decide how they teach. Some educators want more respect, but oppose allowing families to choose among district and charter public schools. Strong majorities of the public, wisely, I think, support both educator and family public school choice. — Joe Nathan
(Nathan directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College.  He welcomes reactions, jnathan@macalester.edu.)

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