More than 80% of Americans say the top goal of K-12 students should be learning to read and write, according to a new national survey.
Ranking close to last among top priorities? Going to college, according to the survey conducted Sept. 20-24 by RealClear Opinion Research.
The poll of 2,014 likely voters also found that “American history,” “the workforce” and staying safe are ranked high as priorities of a good K-12 education — but are rarely, if ever, talked about on the Democratic presidential campaign trail, the pollsters said Wednesday.
“It’s an interesting thing. I wouldn’t say it’s an inverse relationship exactly to what’s being talked about in the 2020 campaign, but it does show us that Twitter is not real America,” said Carl M. Cannon, the Washington bureau chief with RealClearPolitics. “And what’s being talked about in Washington is not always what people are thinking.”
The pollsters noted the relatively high rank of “workforce” among voters. While 72% of those surveyed ranked “workforce” as “important or very important,” only 48% of Americans viewed college preparation with similar importance.
Mr. Cannon said Democratic candidates sparring over plans for free college tuition could be missing bigger concerns among voters.
“How you pay for higher ed is a big part of what’s being discussed on the Democratic side in 2020,” Mr. Cannon said. “But if no one’s talking vocational education, they’re making a mistake.”
Pressed on what “workforce” means to voters, the pollsters suggested a variety of meanings, including earning a business degree to work on Wall Street and getting a two-year degree to be a welder.
“But it does suggest that, you know, a Ph.D. in Chaucer is not what people are thinking about,” said Mr. Cannon.
The survey’s top priorities: “Read and Write” (84%), “Be Good Citizens” (76%), “Stay Safe from Violence and Physical Harm” (75%), “Think Critically” (70%) and “Have Knowledge of American History” (70%). Among the lowest ranked priorities: “Engage in Civil Discourse” (41%) and “Challenge the Status Quo” (46%).
However, the poll found majority — even bipartisan — support for increases to post-secondary tuition assistance. Fifty-nine percent of voters support free college and tuition, the RealClearPolitics found. That figure rises to 63% for free tuition for only middle- or low-income students, and to 71% for free two-year schools.
The pollsters said parents’ concerns about school safety extend beyond mass shootings and include drugs, cyberbullying and gun violence, especially in places like Chicago, where 60 children were gunned down in the first six months of 2019.
“There’s literally not a partisan gap on this,” said Jonathan Chavez, co-founder of SocialSphere Inc.
Some generational divides emerged in the survey, especially on the importance of “American history”: 73% of Gen X and 79% of baby boomers called it “important” or “very important,” but only 58% of Gen Z and millennials said the same.
Also, more Democrats (52%) than Republicans (39%) said “Change the Status Quo” is important, while 82% of Republicans said “Respect America” should be a top goal, compared to 58% of Democrats.
Democrats and Republicans largely agreed on a variety of educational items, including the direction of public schools. Overall, only about 1 in 10 voters feels U.S. public schools would be a “model of excellence” in 2040.
“Looking ahead on education, few people are optimistic about the future,” said John Della Volpe, the poll’s designer and director.
But Americans are looking to other models, either. Thirty percent of voters say they prefer public schools, 18% prefer religious schools and 13% prefer charter schools.