- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2011

The public may have serious doubts about the quality of the nation’s education system, but faith in American teachers remains high, according to a major new survey from Gallup and the professional education association Phi Delta Kappa International.

Seventy-one percent of respondents in the annual poll said they have “trust and confidence” in the men and women teaching today’s students. Nearly 70 percent said they would encourage their own children to become teachers, and 76 percent said the brightest high school graduates should be recruited aggressively to lead in the classroom.

The positive attitudes toward teachers don’t translate to schools as a whole, however. While 79 percent gave their local public school a letter grade of “A” or “B,” just 17 percent gave the same marks to the “nation’s schools,” highlighting a disconnect between what parents and students see in their own communities and their views on the overall effectiveness of public education across the country.

“Parents know teachers in their local schools. They’re their neighbors, their friends, people they run into at the grocery store,” said Bill Bushaw, the association’s executive director, in explaining the results Thursday afternoon during a news conference at George Washington University, where the survey was released.

The report also found broad support for technology in the classroom, with 61 percent of respondents supporting government efforts to provide every school with Internet access and 70 percent saying it’s “very important” that all students have access to cutting-edge learning tools.

Providing students with those 21st-century devices in addition to putting high-quality teachers at the head of the classroom - an approach called “blended learning” - are the keys to improving education, said Bob Wise, president of the D.C.-based advocacy group the Alliance for Excellent Education.

“The public understands and is willing to move forward on blended learning. It’s not either/or. High-tech requires high-teach,” said Mr. Wise, a former Democratic governor of West Virginia. “You’ve got to have good teaching in order for the technology to be effective.”

And while technological upgrades cost money, those barriers are slowly fading away as computers and other tools become cheaper and Internet access becomes more widely available, said Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Open Education Solutions, a company that specializes in helping schools integrate technology into their classrooms.

“It’s time for state and district leaders to put a flag in the ground and say that after next August, every student in our care will have 24/365 access [to the Internet],” he said. “You can now make the financial case to make that shift.”

The survey also found that 95 percent of Americans think a college degree “is important for financial security,” but just 47 percent think those with college degrees have a good chance of finding a quality job. Just 39 percent said college graduates are adequately prepared to enter the work force.

Whether they’re fully prepared for the job market or not, having a college degree will only become more important as the nation’s economy emerges from recession, said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

“The structural change [in the economy] is now accelerating during a recession. When we come out the other side, it is virtually a sure thing the jobs that require high school [diplomas] or less will be a smaller part of this economy,” he said. “What’s unfortunate about that is there are going to be a lot of people left behind.”