50 Years of American Voices


William J. Bushaw and Shane J. Lopez

The 44th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll
of the Public’s Attitudes
Toward the Public Schools

“Deep and important divisions are roiling America in this election year, and education is not immune to those divides. Americans have a number of conflicting and hardening viewpoints in their appraisal of and preferences for directing, managing, and investing in the schools: 

  • We are divided on whether teachers should be evaluated based on student standardized test scores. 
  • We are divided on whether parents should receive vouchers to help pay for their children to attend private schools. 
  • We are divided on whether the children of immigrants who entered this country illegally should receive a free public education.
  • We are divided on whether high school graduates are ready for college.
  • We are even divided in how we perceive our schools, assigning the schools our children attend the highest grades ever while showing little confidence in the nation’s schools as a whole.
  • And we are certainly divided on which political party and which presidential candidate can more positively influence public education in America.
  • We agree that teachers should be rigorously screened and prepared, at least to the level of other professions such as engineering, business, law, and medicine.
  • We agree that we have trust and confidence in our teachers.
  • We agree that the common core standards can have a positive effect on public education.
  • We agree that neither high school dropouts nor high school graduates are ready for the world of work.
  • We agree that we must close the achievement gap and that we can do this without lowering standards.
  • We agree that we must support urban schools.”

What was happening in American education?

January 2012: New York Times writer Paul Tough publishes How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, which builds on research that shows that success has less to do with IQ and more with character skills, such as grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, and optimism.

Spring 2012: More than two-thirds of states are overhauling how they evaluate teachers in response to pressure from the Obama administration.

Spring 2012: College enrollment shows signs of slowing. Harvard, Yale, and a few other selective universities announced record numbers of applications in the spring, but higher-education officials have begun to fret over signs that college enrollment is starting to drop. More than 40% of private colleges have reported enrollment declines.

Fall 2012: The so-called flipped classroom developed by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams in their Colorado school gains widespread recognition as a strategy for instruction. In that model, Bergmann and Sams expect students to access teacher-created videos and interactive lessons at home and use class time with the teacher to work through problems and engage in collaborative learning.

Dec. 14, 2012: The Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., results in the deaths of 20 first graders and six school employees as well as the gunman. It is the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Although many people urge action on guns, none occurs.

2012  Newtown Murders Ap 948939764692

Stuffed animals and a sign calling for prayer sit at the base of a tree near the Newtown VIllage Cemetery in Newtown, Conn., after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

What else was happening in the United States?

2012: Several states pass laws allowing driverless cars.

Feb. 1, 2012: Indiana passes right-to-work legislation, becoming the first Rust Belt state to do so. Michigan, the most highly unionized state in the nation, follows a few months later.

Feb. 26, 2012: Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, is shot to death by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., sparking widespread reaction.

March 14, 2012: Encyclopedia Britannica announces it will no longer publish a print edition but will be available only online. Newsweek magazine discontinues its print edition in October in favor of an online-only presence.

June 15, 2012: President Barack Obama says the U.S. will stop deporting young illegal immigrants.

Oct. 22, 2012: Cyclist Lance Armstrong is stripped of his seven Tour de France medals and banned for lifefrom competitive cycling after being charged with using performance-enhancing drugs.

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Nov. 6, 2012: Barack Obama is elected to his second term as president.

Nov. 6, 2012: Washington becomes the first state to legalize marijuana, Colorado soon follows.

2012: America endures the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression thanks to mortgage foreclosures due to bad subprime loans.

2012: Twitter has more than 200 million users around the world this year.

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We welcome your conversation about the poll results and the other information we’ve assembled here. What did we forget? What do you remember about this year? How do you think the events of this year influenced the responses to our questions?