Public Schools are Improving Their Grades, but Private Schools Remain at the Head of the Class

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Americans’ ratings of public schools are on the rise. Just under two in ten believe U.S. public schools provide an excellent or very good education nationally, at both the primary (19% for grades K-6) and secondary (18% for grades 7-12). While there’s still plenty of room for improvement, both scores have improved over the last seven years (from 15% and 13%, respectively, in 2008).

However, other schooling systems are getting better grades – dramatically better, in the case of private schools.  In particular, four in ten Americans believe religious private schools provide an excellent or very good education (40% each primary and secondary), while just under four in ten say the same of private schools without religious affiliations (38% primary, 39% secondary). 

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,273 U.S. adults surveyed online between July 15 and 20, 2015.

Charter schools also outpace public, albeit less dramatically than their private counterparts: nationally, just over a quarter of American give charter schools excellent or very good ratings for the quality of education they provide (26% primary, 27%  secondary).

  • National ratings for charter schools have improved notably since 2008, when two in ten adults believed they provided an excellent or very good quality of education at both the primary and secondary levels (20% each).

Homeschooling draws slightly stronger excellent or very good ratings than public schools as well (23% primary, 22% secondary). National homeschooling perceptions show little change since 2008, when two in ten Americans rated homeschooling excellent/very good (20% each primary and secondary).

A school for every subject

Private schools are dramatically more likely than public schools or home schooling to be seen as providing a better education in most areas measured:

  • Education for gifted or talented children (51% private, vs. 17% public, 8% home),
  • Preparing students for college (47% vs. 16%, 7%),
  • Teaching foreign languages (44% vs. 16%, 6%),
  • Art/music (43% vs. 20%, 6%),
  • Science (42% vs. 20%, 6%) and math (42% vs. 17%, 7%),
  • Reading & writing (38% vs. 16%, 12%) and English/literature (37% vs. 18%, 9%), and
  • History (33% vs. 19%, 10%).

Private schools are also most likely – albeit with public schools in a closer second place – to be seen as better at preparing students for employment (34% private vs. 24% public, 6% home), teaching good citizenship (32% vs. 24%, 10%), and education for special needs children (31% vs. 27%, 12%). 

On the other hand, Americans are most likely to believe public schools are better at teaching students to get along with people from different backgrounds (54% vs. 16% private, 3% home), social skills with peers (45% vs. 25%, 4%), and physical education (41% vs. 18%, 5%).

Americans don’t see homeschooling at the head of the class in any of the categories tested.

Do’s and don’ts

Nine in ten adults believe students benefit from having music included in their curriculum (89%), and 84% believe that participation in a physical education class or a sport should be a requirement for all students.  These attitudes echo previous Harris Poll findings underscoring the perceived importance of music and sports participation and the dividends each can pay later in life. Strong majorities of adults also believe students benefit from having art included in their curriculum (89%) and from learning real-world skills (95%).

A strong majority also believes that school uniforms are beneficial (60%), while only three in ten Americans agree that students’ education benefits when classes are separated by gender (27%).  

 

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TABLE 1A

EVALUATION OF EDUCATION QUALITY:  NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE SUMMARY GRID

“Overall, how would you rate the quality of education provided by the following in …? Excellent, very good, good, fair, poor, not sure?”

Base: All adults

 

Excellent/Very good (NET)

Excellent

Very good

Good

Fair/Poor (NET)

Fair

Poor

Not sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Private schools with religious affiliations, grades K-6

40

15

25

26

16

11

5

18

Private schools with religious affiliations, grades 7-12

40

15

24

26

16

11

5

18

Private schools without religious affiliations, grades 7-12

39

12

27

26

17

12

4

19

Private schools without religious affiliations, grades K-6

38

11

26

26

16

12

4

19

Charter schools,
grades 7-12

27

8

19

29

22

16

7

23

Charter schools,
grades K-6

26

8

18

30

22

15

6

22

Homeschooling,
grades K-6

23

10

13

22

32

21

11

23

Homeschooling,
grades 7-12

22

9

13

22

34

22

12

23

Public schools,
grades K-6

19

5

13

32

42

28

14

7

Public schools,
grades 7-12

18

5

13

28

47

29

18

7

*Prior to 2015, “Private schools with religious affiliations” were referred to as “Private, church-related schools.”

**Prior to 2015, “Private schools without religious affiliations” were referred to as “Private, non-church-related schools.”

 


TABLE 1B

EVALUATION OF EDUCATION QUALITY:  LOCAL PERSPECTIVE SUMMARY GRID

“Overall, how would you rate the quality of education provided by the following in …? Excellent, very good, good, fair, poor, not sure?”

Base: All adults

 

Excellent/Very good (NET)

Excellent

Very good

Good

Fair/Poor (NET)

Fair

Poor

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Private schools with religious affiliations, grades K-6

36

12

24

38

26

19

7

Private schools with religious affiliations, grades 7-12

36

12

24

38

26

19

7

Private schools without religious affiliations, grades 7-12

32

10

22

41

27

20

7

Private schools without religious affiliations, grades K-6

32

9

22

42

27

20

7

Charter schools, grades 7-12

24

8

16

41

35

24

11

Charter schools, grades K-6

24

7

17

41

35

24

11

Public schools, grades K-6

23

6

16

36

41

26

15

Public schools, grades 7-12

22

6

16

34

44

27

17

Homeschooling, grades K-6

22

8

14

34

44

30

14

Homeschooling, grades 7-12

21

8

14

34

45

30

14

*Prior to 2015, “Private schools with religious affiliations” were referred to as “Private, church-related schools.”

**Prior to 2015, “Private schools without religious affiliations” were referred to as “Private, non-church-related schools.”

 


TABLE 1C

EVALUATION OF EDUCATION QUALITY:  NATIONAL AND LOCAL AREA PERSPECTIVE

“Overall, how would you rate the quality of education provided by the following in …? Excellent, very good, good, fair, poor, not sure?”

Percent saying excellent/very good

Base: All adults

 

2015

2008

The United States

Your Local Area

The United States

Your Local Area

%

%

%

%

Private schools with religious affiliations, grades K-6

40

36

38

35

Private schools with religious affiliations, grades 7-12

40

36

37

34

Private schools without religious affiliations, grades 7-12

39

32

36

30

Private schools without religious affiliations, grades K-6

38

32

36

30

Charter schools, grades 7-12

27

24

20

21

Charter schools, grades K-6

26

24

20

21

Homeschooling, grades K-6

23

22

20

21

Homeschooling, grades 7-12

22

21

20

20

Public schools, grades K-6

19

23

15

20

Public schools, grades 7-12

18

22

13

19

*Prior to 2015, “Private schools with religious affiliations” were referred to as “Private, church-related schools.”

**Prior to 2015, “Private schools without religious affiliations” were referred to as “Private, non-church-related schools.”

 

 

 


TABLE 1D

EVALUATION OF EDUCATION QUALITY:  NATIONAL AND LOCAL AREA PERSPECTIVE

“Overall, how would you rate the quality of education provided by the following in …? Excellent, very good, good, fair, poor, not sure?”

Percent saying poor/fair

Base: All adults

 

2015

2008

The United States

Your Local Area

The United States

Your Local Area

%

%

%

%

Homeschooling, grades 7-12

34

34

31

37

Homeschooling, grades K-6

32

34

28

38

Public schools, grades K-6

32

36

40

38

Public schools, grades 7-12

28

34

46

35

Charter schools, grades 7-12

22

41

20

32

Charter schools, grades K-6

22

41

19

34

Private schools without religious affiliations, grades 7-12

17

41

11

24

Private schools with religious affiliations, grades K-6

16

38

15

23

Private schools with religious affiliations, grades 7-12

16

38

15

23

Private schools without religious affiliations, grades K-6

16

42

11

24

*Prior to 2015, “Private schools with religious affiliations” were referred to as “Private, church-related schools.”

**Prior to 2015, “Private schools without religious affiliations” were referred to as “Private, non-church-related schools.”

 


TABLE 2

BEST MODES OF EDUCATION FOR INDIVIDUAL SUBJECT AREAS

“For each of the following areas, please indicate which type of schooling provides a better education.”

Base: All adults

 

Private

Schools

Public

Schools

Home

schooling

No

Difference

Not

Sure

%

%

%

%

%

Education for gifted or talented children

51

17

8

10

15

Preparation for college

47

16

7

14

15

Foreign language

44

16

6

16

18

Art / Music

43

20

6

15

16

Science

42

20

6

17

16

Mathematics

42

17

7

18

16

Reading and writing

38

16

12

19

16

English/ Literature

37

18

9

19

17

Preparation for employment

34

24

6

18

18

History

33

19

10

21

17

Good citizenship

32

24

10

18

16

Education for special-needs children

31

27

12

11

20

Social skills with peers

25

45

4

12

14

Physical education

18

41

5

20

18

Getting along with people from different backgrounds

16

54

3

13

13

 

 


TABLE 3

BEST MODES OF EDUCATION FOR INDIVIDUAL SUBJECT AREAS – TREND

“For each of the following areas, please indicate which type of schooling provides a better education.”

Base: All adults

 

2015

2008

 

Public

Schools

Private

Schools

Home

schooling

Public

Schools

Private

Schools

Home

schooling

%

%

%

%

%

%

Getting along with people from different backgrounds

54

16

3

53

15

4

Social skills with peers

45

25

4

42

24

3

Physical education

41

18

5

38

20

3

Education for special-needs children

27

31

12

28

29

12

Good citizenship

24

32

10

23

31

10

Preparation for employment

24

34

6

26

32

5

Art / Music

20

43

6

19

43

6

Science

20

42

6

18

41

6

History

19

33

10

18

35

9

English/ Literature

18

37

9

14

41

8

Education for gifted or talented children

17

51

8

13

51

7

Mathematics

17

42

7

14

43

8

Reading and writing

16

38

12

14

40

11

Preparation for college

16

42

7

16

49

5

Foreign language

16

44

6

17

42

5

 

 


TABLE 4A

STATEMENTS ABOUT SCHOOL AND EDUCATION OPTIONS

“How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?”

Base: All adults

 

AGREE (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

DISAGREE (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

%

%

%

%

%

%

Students benefit from learning real-world skills (i.e., how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, how to prepare for a job interview, how to manage a personal budget).

95

67

27

5

4

2

Students benefit from music being included in their curriculum.

89

48

41

11

9

2

Students benefit from art being included in their curriculum.

89

46

42

11

9

3

Participation in a physical education class or a sport should be a requirement for all students.

84

48

36

16

12

4

There should be separate classes for students with developmental disabilities.

76

30

46

24

18

6

School uniforms are beneficial.

60

21

39

40

22

18

Students’ education benefits when classes are separated by gender.

27

7

20

73

34

39

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 


TABLE 4B

STAMTMENTS ABOUT SCHOOL AND EDUCATION OPTIONS

“How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?”

Base: All adults

 

Total

Age

Political Philosophy

18-24

25-29

30-39

40-49

50-64

65+

Con

Mod

Lib

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Students benefit from learning real-world skills (i.e., how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, how to prepare for a job interview, how to manage a personal budget).

95

90

95

94

96

95

96

95

94

95

Students benefit from music being included in their curriculum.

89

83

95

89

91

89

90

88

88

93

Students benefit from art being included in their curriculum.

89

84

92

91

89

88

88

84

89

94

Participation in a physical education class or a sport should be a requirement for all students.

84

70

83

88

83

86

87

84

85

82

There should be separate classes for students with developmental disabilities.

76

72

70

79

79

75

78

78

77

72

School uniforms are beneficial.

60

38

59

57

59

63

70

67

59

52

Students’ education benefits when classes are separated by gender.

27

10

31

32

27

26

32

34

25

22

Note: Responses may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 


Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between July 15 and 20, 2015 among 2,273 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

 

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

 

The Harris Poll® #58, September 29, 2015

By Hannah Pollack, Harris Poll Research Analyst