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Populace Study Reveals Crisis of Confidence in American Education

By eLearning Inside
January 18, 2023

Today the national think tank Populace, released its Purpose of Education Index, which reveals radical shifts in how Americans view K-12 education.

Educators, parents, and policymakers would do well to understand these trends, all of which point to a desire on the part of the public to fundamentally rethink American education in favor of personalized curricula, practical skills, and subject mastery and away from standardized testing, college prep, and a one-size fits all model.

How COVID Changed Priorities

“The COVID era fundamentally altered the way most of us view education and what our kids should get out of it. The K-12 educational system is wildly unresponsive to what parents and children actually want,” said Todd Rose, co-founder and CEO of Populace.

“Americans don’t want ‘better’; they want different. They want a way out of the one-size-fits-all approach driven by standardized testing models and elite institutions making us compete in a zero-sum game and instead an educational framework geared towards individualized learning, practical skills, and preparation for a meaningful life.”

Key Findings

For the study of over 1,000 individuals, conducted with cooperation from YouGov and data analytics firm Gradient, respondents were given 57 priorities for K-12 education and ranked them using a conjoint analysis that forces them into tradeoff scenarios and avoids the distorting effects of social influence. Key findings include:

  • When given 57 priorities for children’s K-12 education in 2022, Americans ranked being prepared to enroll in a college or university as one of their lowest priorities (#47). Before COVID, respondents ranked it as their 10th highest priority for K-12 education.
  • The vast majority of the general population believes more things about the educational system should change than stay the same (71%), including 21% who say nearly everything should change.
  • Respondents reported “students develop practical skills (e.g. manage personal finances, prepare a meal, make an appointment)” as the #1 priority for education outcomes. “Demonstrates basic reading, writing, and arithmetic” (#4), “prepared for a career” (#6), “effectively plan, and prioritize to achieve a goal” (#11), and “have the skills to be competitive in the local job market” (#12) vastly outperformed less practical or short term goals.
  • Respondents believe students should advance once they have demonstrated mastery of a subject (#7) rather than when they pass an arbitrary test. In fact student success being evaluated based on standardized tests was ranked as a bottom ten priority (#49).
  • Students having the time they need to learn at their own pace is ranked 13th highest priority. In the same vein, respondents believe that all students should receive the unique support that they need (#5) rather than all students receiving the same level of support (#34). Generally, Americans do not care if all students study the same thing (#54) compared to them getting to choose courses based on their individual interests (#9).
  • Asian respondents are the only racial demographic to have “prepared to enroll in a college or university” as a top ten priority (#9) – the only group staying near the pre-COVID priority ranking. Black and Asian respondents selected “students understand and know how to participate in democracy” as a top 4 priority (#4 and #3, respectively) compared to White (#21) and Hispanic (#29) respondents.

About Populace Populace is a Massachusetts-based think tank dedicated to building a world where all people have the chance to live fulfilling lives in a thriving society. Populace’s private opinion research offers new insights into what Americans actually believe, with polling methodologies that reduce social pressure and bias found in traditional public opinion collection.

About Todd Rose Dr. Todd Rose is the co-founder and CEO of Populace. He was previously a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he founded the Laboratory for the Science of Individuality and directed the Mind, Brain, and Education program. Dr. Rose is the author of the bestselling books Collective Illusions, Dark Horse, and The End of Average.

Featured image: travelview, iStock. 


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