50 Years of American Voices


PDK International

The 48th Annual PDK Poll
of the Public’s Attitudes
Toward the Public Schools

“Americans don’t agree on the most basic question about the very purpose of a public school education. Is it to prepare students for work? To prepare them for citizenship? Or to prepare them academically?

“Less than half (45%) of adult Americans say preparing students academically is the main goal of a public school education, and just one-third feel that way strongly. Other Americans split between saying the main purpose of public schools is to prepare students for work (25%) and for citizenship (26%).

“In a related result — perhaps reflecting the economic uncertainty of recent years — the survey finds a heavy tilt in preferences away from more high-level academics and toward more classes focused on work skills. By a broad 68% to 21%, Americans say having their local public schools focus more on career-technical or skills-based classes is better than focusing on more honors or advanced academic classes.

“Differing views of the overarching purpose of public education influence attitudes toward public schools more broadly. Local schools are better rated by those focused on academics, for example, and do less well among those who see their chief aim as preparing students for work.”

What was happening in American education in 2016?

March 2016: In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the U.S. Supreme Court votes 4-4 that public-sector unions can collect fees from workers who choose not to join and do not want to support the unions’ collective bargaining activities.

2016 John  B  King 400

John B. King succeeded Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. (Department of Education)

March 2016: John B. King becomes U.S. Secretary of Education, replacing Arne Duncan who resigned. King had been commissioner of education for the state of New York.

April 14, 2016: A California appeals court reverses the lower court decision in Vergara vs. California, saying that the state’s job protections do not deprive poor and minority children of a quality education nor violate their civil rights.

May 13, 2016: The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice advise public schools to allow students, including transgender students, to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice, not necessarily the gender assigned at birth.

July 2016: California adds the historical contributions of sexual minorities and people with disabilities to its school curriculum.

What else was happening in the United States?

2016  Zika  Mosquito

Mosquitoes transmit the Zika virus. (Thinkstock)

February 2016: The World Health Organization calls the Zika virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, a global health threat, and warnings are soon issued about areas in the United States that are vulnerable.

Feb. 13, 2016: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dies unexpectedly. President Barack Obama nominates Merrick Garland as his replacement, but the U.S. Senate, led by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, refuses to give Garland a hearing, instead arguing that the winner of the ongoing presidential election be given the opportunity to nominate Scalia's replacement instead.

April 21, 2016: Music legend Prince dies at age 57, prompting many U.S. cities to use purple lights to illuminate buildings, bridges, and other public spaces in his memory.

June 3, 2016: Boxing great Muhammad Ali dies at the age of 74.

June 12, 2016: A massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando leaves 50 dead and dozens more injured in what is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The shootings prompt widespread calls for more restrictions on guns, but there is little action that follows.

June 12, 2016: The Broadway show, “Hamilton,” which has had months of sold-out shows in New York, sweeps the Tony Awards.

Oct. 7, 2016: The Obama administration accuses Russia of hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee.

Oct. 7, 2016: The Washington Post releases a 2005 videotape of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women.

Oct. 28, 2016: FBI Director James Comey tells Congress that his agency will reopen its investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Nov. 6, 2016: FBI Director James Comey tells Congress that the newest investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server has not changed the bureau’s earlier conclusion.

Nov. 8, 2016: Donald Trump is elected 45th president of the United States. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but Trump won the Electoral College vote.

Dec. 9, 2016: The CIA says the U.S. intelligence community has "high confidence" that Russia conducted operations during the 2016 presidential election to assist Donald Trump in winning the presidency. Intelligence agencies have concluded that the Kremlin had orchestrated the Democratic National Committee cyberattacks. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress call for a full-scale investigation. Trump calls the report "ridiculous."

Share “2016”:


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?