Just five percent of those surveyed say the public school system deserves an A, and 23 percent offer a B. The most common grade was C, given by 32 percent of respondents. Another 26 percent gave the schools a D, and 12 percent say they deserve a failing grade.
Americans are split on whether the schools have gotten better, gotten worse, or stayed the same. Thirty-four percent say the public schools are better than when they were educated, but 38 percent say they are worse; roughly one in four say there has been no change.
Interestingly, these views have barely changed since the New York Times asked the same question in 1983.
Older Americans are most likely to say education is worse now than when they went to school. Men, people with higher education, and people with higher income were also more likely to say school quality has declined.
Americans are also split on private companies running school districts, though there is slightly more opposition (50 percent) than support (42 percent) for the concept.
Twelve percent strongly favor private companies running school districts, which involves developing curriculum, hiring teachers and testing students. Thirty percent somewhat favor the idea. Twenty-three percent somewhat oppose it, and 27 percent strongly oppose it.
Responses were similar when the Public Agenda Foundation Poll asked the question in 1999.
Forty-six percent of parents with children under 18 would definitely send their kids to a privately run school, or at least seriously consider it. Forty-nine percent say they would probably not or definitely not do so.
Read the Complete Poll
This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,048 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone December 17-22, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.
This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.