Wisconsin’s Democracy Explosion Partially Due to Sharply Split Views of School Success–Local vs. National

Cross-posted from Merge Left

One reason that Wisconsin erupted the way that it did is a long-standing disconnect between the power of the national discourse about failing schools–which people tend to buy into in the abstract–and the reality of the fact that most people feel that the schools their children go to are doing a pretty good job. So long as the education discourse remains national, abstract, and removed from most people’s experience, it has proven relatively easy to keep moving that discourse into a gloomier and gloomie direction, a process that has grown more intense than ever the past half decade or so. But when the battleground suddenly shifted to putting local teachers under the gun, Republicans gravely miscalculated where the public’s sentiments would lie. Several decades of data tell us that we shouldn’t have been surprised.

In a diary at DKos Sunday, Teachers: the new enemy of the states?, Steve Singiser wrote:

The boldness with which the foes of teachers unions are surging forward seems to hint at the fact that they feel at, in this moment, they have the upper hand with the electorate. And they may well be right.

Consider an odd disconnect in a Gallup survey on education conducted late last summer:

Percent declaring they are satisfied with the quality of K-12 education in the United States (2004 results in parentheses)

Satisfied: 43 (53)

Dissatisfied: 54 (45)

Percent declaring they are satisfied with the quality of their own child’s education (2004 results in parentheses)

Satisfied: 80 (79)

Dissatisfied: 19 (19)

What these results would seem to imply is that there has been some negative movement on the perceptions of K-12 education (admittedly, 2004 was a high-water mark, but it’s worth noting that 2010 marked the lowest support on this question since 2001).

But the data also implies that parental observations of their own child’s education have not diminished at all. Indeed, the 80% satisfaction level recorded in the 2010 survey was the strongest level of satisfaction since 1999.

In fact, the disconnect between views of education at the national level and those parents have of their own children’s schools have always been substantial, ever since Gallup began asking the questions in their joint polling series in association with Phi Delta Kappa. (PDK’s poll results announcement here, PDF here) There has been a noticeable spike in the negative nationwide perceptions over the past half decade, but it’s building on a long-standing historical foundation that is grounded more in propaganda than in reality.

Needless to say, parents have a much better chance of knowing what schools are like when they have first- and/or second-hand experience, as they do with the schools their children attend. This doesn’t guarantee the accuracy of their perceptions, of course. But it does give them a better shot. When it comes to the nation at large, however, they are almost entirely at the mercy of the media, and the media bias against America’s public schools has been pretty relentless at least since the publication of “A Nation At Risk” in 1983. The right’s anti-public education push–aided and abetted by neoliberals, of course–has been relatvely successful so long as its been waged in the national media, with mostly uncritical trickle-down to local coverage. But what happened in Wisconsin is an indication of what this polling history would lead you to expect: If you shift the battleground from the national media to the local schools, the odds shift dramatically in favor of public education. That’s exactly what’s happened, and it really shouldn’t come as any surprise.

Let’s look at the long-term data in three different ways: perceptions of school success, school failure, and the ratio of the two. Gallup uses a letter-grade scale, so we rate A’s and B’s as “success”, D’s and F’s as failure. First we’ll look at success, then success/failure ratios and then failure.

Perceptions of School Success

Page 1 of 3 | Next page