WASHINGTON, DC — Contentious debates about public education often start from profound disagreements about the purpose of public education. A new American Compass survey explores these conflicts, finding that our education system is consistently failing on purpose, focused on filling the college pipeline when the aspirations for most Americans are quite different. The results make clear that policymakers need to focus less on how they and their friends experienced education and more on a system that will empower common citizens and advance national power.
The American Compass Failing on Purpose Survey explores the perspectives and experiences of those in closest contact with the American education system: parents, current students, and recent graduates. In partnership with YouGov, American Compass surveyed representative samples of 1,000 American parents with school-age or recently graduated children (age 12–30) and 1,000 American young adults (age 18-30).
The survey’s key findings include:
- Americans want a public education system less focused on college, more focused on preparing people to build decent lives in their communities.
- Americans are frustrated with what the education system is providing today—most say it is “Good” or “Excellent” at academics, but not at preparing students for their lives or for citizenship.
- Tracking in high school is an overwhelmingly popular model of reform, and the terminology is irrelevant. Overall, 86% of parents supported the model regardless of whether it was described as “tracking” or as “diverse pathways.”
- While the vast majority of American parents agree that college is too expensive, free college isn’t what they want in response. Asked which option they wish were available to their child, a three-year apprenticeship or a full-tuition college scholarship, most parents opted for the apprenticeship.
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