Not my school

There is a curious loyalty that we universally have to our family, our team, our school. It makes sense. We want to be positive about communities in which we are involved. There is a pride in being part of a place. We invest in our school. It is the one we know. It is the we care about.

This isn’t just my opinion, an annual poll of adults in the United States to gauge their attitudes on public education backs this theory up. There are some common threads year after year. Overall, adults and parents agree that education is important. In the 2020 survey, “Six in 10 adults and 7 in 10 public school parents call public education highly important in their vote for president this fall.” Generally, support for education is high but increasing taxes is not.

While different issues have emerged as more important than others in different years, there is one universal year after year: the rating of local schools vs education nationally. Invariably, survey respondents give their local school a higher grade, usually around an A and national schools a low grade, often in the C or D range. The local school district and state assessment comes somewhere in between these.

It is fascinating, although perhaps not surprising, that adults consistently believe that their local school is outstanding while maintaining a largely negative view of the education system at large. They know the local school. Their children likely attend or attended it. They might know a teacher there. They walk by it and see kids playing happily. It is tangible and in sight. The national system is abstract. Furthermore, the media and policy makers paint mostly a negative view of the school system, often decrying our “failing” schools. So, while schools as a whole are inadequate, local schools are not?

If so many people believe their local school is doing well, then how can schools collectively be failing? More importantly if education is highly important, why are willing to not put the money behind it to support them? The truth is that we are willing to fund and support schools only locally. School foundations run by parents are able to raise millions of dollars in some areas to support schools. In Palo Alto, California, where the median home value tops $3 million, the Palo Alto parent group raised over $6 million during the 2019-2020 to fund additional teachers, aides, and activities. School bonds pass at a higher rate (84% across 13 states) at the ballot than other bond measures (around 84% across 13 states). When it comes to taxes beyond the local, the electorate says no. For more than 15 years, survey respondents have said funding in schools is the biggest problem schools face yet when asked if taxes should be raised to better fund schools 40-50% (depending on the year of the survey) oppose raising taxes. If it’s “Not My School,” then when it comes to sharing the wealth, we are unlikely to give to the broader community.

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