The Closer You Get, the Better We Look

Once again we tip our hat to Phi Delta Kappa and the Gallup Organization in completing the annual poll of people’s attitudes toward the public schools. The poll provides a great service for school leaders because it’s essential that we listen to our communities’ perceptions about our schools.

I may view the annual PDK/Gallup poll differently than other people. I see it as an agenda-setting moment for school communication leaders. Often, I look at some of the responses and say, “Wow, do people actually think that is reality in our local schools?” In some communities, these findings may ring true, but in others we must get better at communicating and engaging our parents and larger communities about what’s real in our schools.

This space limits how much we can discuss crafting strategies for key issues of testing, opt-out of testing, accountability measures, school choice, charters, and more. We will tackle many of those topics in the year ahead. But, in the meantime, let’s focus on the public confidence factor in your local schools.

Local Schools Are Better Than Other Schools Nationally

This year’s report shows overall grades for public education all the way back to 1985. And the one constant is that local schools receive many more grades of A or B than those nationally. That means that parents and others who know their local schools primarily say they are doing a good job. People think, “It’s all those other schools that are bad, not mine.”

And yet, those other schools are made up of somebody else’s local schools. And those local schools receive high local grades.

The term irony comes to mind. Go figure.

And yet, we do understand that many schools need improvement in many localities throughout our country. And often misperceptions of what I call “Big Education” are formed though the negativity of media accounts, political leaders, and blogs telling us that Big Education” is going to hell in a handbasket.

And while I am at it, Congress falls into the same local perception dilemma. My congressman is good, but “Big Congress” is bad.

See-for-Yourself Campaigns

The farther you get from your local schools, the darker the perception of public schools in general. That’s why we have been saying for years, The Closer You Get, the Better We Look. And now we have 30 years of PDK/Gallup Polls to prove it.

Two things to consider:

  • Repeat aspects of the current poll in your community and then strategically find ways to engage parents, local leaders, and others in your results. Good engaging dialogue will make your schools better. Check with the Gallup folks on how to make this happen.
  • Plan a “See-for-Yourself Campaign” to get more parents and community leaders in your schools. NSPRA members have done this for many years and the strategy works to point out the good and what’s still must be done to make schools better. This approach often gives people a myth-busting experience that increases the level of confidence in schools.

The bottom line is: Don’t let the negatives of “Big Education” creep into your local schools. Be proactive to prove that the closer you get, the better we look.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

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