Survey: Americans Want K-12 Schools To Prioritize Practical Skills, Not College Prep
January 20, 2023 | Tags: education, jobs, REASON, School Choice
A recently published survey asked respondents to rank their K-12 educational priorities. The results were startling: Americans rank preparing students for college near the bottom of the list. This wasn't always the case. Before the pandemic, college preparation ranked 10th in a list of 57 possible priorities. Now, it ranks 47th. This shift appears to be part of a larger trend, one where Americans increasingly want individualized education that focuses on instilling practical skills in students.
The Purpose of Education Index was published by Populace, a nonpartisan think tank. The survey results show an increased desire to individualize education and instill positive character qualities in students. According to the survey, the most important goal for K-12 education should be that it provides students with practical skills, critical thinking skills, and character.
In its surveys, Populace measures respondents' privately held opinions as well as their perceptions of what others believe. The Purpose of Education Index revealed some startling gaps between respondents' opinions and what they believed the opinions of others would be. While respondents ranked college preparedness near the bottom of their list of priorities, they assumed that it would be the third most important goal for others. And while respondents ranked character development, student's ability to choose courses based on interest, and student's ability to learn at their own pace as the 3rd, 9th, and 13th most important goals on the list, respectively, respondents expected others to rank those goals as the 26th, 31st, and 52nd most important.
Todd Rose, Populace's co-founder, told Axios that the survey results convey that an "exhausted majority" wants K-12 education to shift toward giving students better critical thinking skills and helping them find a career "with meaning and purpose."
According to the survey report, the results suggest "a recognition that problem solving and making good decisions are learned skills; the American public at large wants schools to be a place where students are supported in developing those skills."
The devaluation of college preparedness is clearly connected to this broader shift in priorities—and it is reflected in real trends in college enrollment. According to NBC News, the proportion of high school graduates enrolling in college in the fall after they finish school fell from 70 percent in 2016 to 63 percent in 2020—a decline that appears to be continuing since the onset of the pandemic. With the costs of college ever increasing and a robust post-pandemic labor market, it seems that increasing numbers of young people are opting out of college—and this most recent Populace survey indicates that this choice is increasingly a popular one.
Overall, Americans are prioritizing education that is individualized and not necessarily focused on preparing every student for higher education. As the Populace survey report states, "Despite the recent emphasis placed on preparing students for competitive higher education programs, Americans believe the K-12 education system should redirect its focus on what it means to successfully prepare American students—equipping them with practical skills that prepare them for life."
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