Americans Give Public Schools Low Grades

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In the "Where America Stands" series, CBS News and our print partner, USA Today, are looking at a broad spectrum of issues facing this country in the new decade.

More Americans give the country's public school system poor grades than high grades, but the percentage that thinks a public education nowadays is worse than it used to be has not changed much over the past 30 years.

A new CBS News poll released Saturday found that nearly four in 10 Americans give the public school system a low mark of D or a failing grade of F. Just 28 percent give the country a grade of A or B while 32 percent give the country a C.

But there is no consensus of how the public schools of today are educating children compared to the past. Those views have changed little over the past 30 years. Only 34 percent of Americans say public schools today give children a better education than they received when they were in school, but about as many say today's education is worse. Then there are the 24 percent who think it's about the same.

Older Americans are more likely than younger people to think today's education is worse than it was when they went to school. Men, those with higher educations and higher-income Americans are also more apt to say public schools are worse today.

In some areas for-profit private companies run the school districts and are responsible for developing the curriculum, hiring teachers and testing students. Slightly more Americans oppose rather than support such a system; 50 percent oppose it, and 42 percent favor it. Parents are more closely divided with 45 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed.

The Public Agenda Foundation Poll asked about this type of arrangement in 1999 with similar results.

Parents of children under 18 were asked how likely they would be to send their own children to such a school. Just under half of respondents said they would do so or consider it. About the same percentage said they would probably 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.