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What Americans say about…

Then & now: Have schools improved over time?

There's a strong link between the perception of public schools and whether Americans think students are getting a worse education than they did.

Fifty-five percent of adults in the 2018 PDK poll say today’s students are receiving a worse education than they did when they were students. That’s the most negative result on this question (by five points) in the six times the PDK poll has asked it since 1973.

Notably, among those who don’t have a school-age child, 57% say children today are getting a worse education than they did; among parents, this declines to 46%. Whites are another more critical group — 60% say schools today are worse, an opinion shared by 48% of Hispanics and 40% of blacks.

There’s a strong link between perceptions of local schools and education quality overall. Those who give their local schools an A or B grade say education is better now than when they were in school, 61% vs. 39%. That’s essentially reversed among those assigning lower grades, 32% vs. 68%. The pattern is similar, though much less stark, by high and low grades for schools nationally as opposed to locally.

Americans who report living in high- or upper-middle-income communities (55%) are more likely than those who live in middle- to lower-income areas (40%) to say that children today get a better education than they did.

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