April 1, 2004
Over the past several years, Public Education Network and Education Week (PEN/Ed Week) have systematically explored the degree to which the American public takes responsibility for quality public education, and the degree to which the public holds itself and its elected officials accountable for promoting policies that support quality education for all children. We have examined the priority the public places on education, what voters want from elected officials, and what citizens, including the 75 percent of adults who do not have children in school, have done and are willing to do to improve public education.This year's PEN/Ed Week poll, conducted with funding from the MetLife Foundation, reveals that the American public continues to see education as a vital national priority, an important investment in the future, and a major issue in the upcoming local, state, and national elections. What is particularly striking and encouraging is that, through the years, voters across all demographic groups have viewed public schools as the center of their community, and have placed a high value on public education. They see public education as the key to individual opportunity, economic growth, and community well-being. This year, even in a time of war and with concern over joblessness, the economy, and healthcare, education is nonetheless at the top of the public's "to-do" list.Another key poll finding is the critical role that information plays in every aspect of public schooling -- from ascertaining progress in school improvement, to ensuring that schools have the resources required to get the job done. Which tells us that, if we want people to take greater responsibility for public schools by taking civic action, or voting, or volunteering, we have to make sure they have reliable information on education issues. Americans need more information on what is happening in local schools, how effective their communities are in supporting quality public education, and what elected officials are doing to improve local schools.The public's responsibility for public education can be summed up in three words: Learn. Vote. Act. Public responsibility requires voters to learn what is going on in their schools, in their communities, in school boardrooms, city halls, and state capitols. It also requires people to vote for candidates that support quality public schools, and to act in a civic capacity to make schools better for all young people.