The landscape of K–12 education in the United States has shifted substantially in the last 10 years. These shifts, often marked by significant controversy, have been driven in part by federal legislation, including the Race to the Top initiative signed in 2009, the Common Core State Standards released in 2010 and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed in 2015.

Race to the Top, Common Core and ESSA have all affected many American students, teachers, administrators and parents. Race to the Top, which awarded $4 billion to 18 states and the District of Columbia through a competitive grant, supported comprehensive education reform and innovation focused on developing standardized assessments; collecting data to measure student growth and improvement; developing and retaining effective teachers; and improving low-achieving schools.1 Since their release, the District of Columbia and all but four states have adopted the Common Core State Standards.2 Most recently, ESSA replaced No Child Left Behind. The act, which passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support, seeks to create equal opportunity and ensure students in all public schools are prepared for success in college or careers.3

Yet despite these wide-reaching initiatives, funding inequities persist. Students in the highest poverty districts each receive about $1,000 less in state and local funding than those in districts with lower poverty rates.4 While some progress has been made on college enrollment for Hispanic students, race-based and income-based achievement gaps also persist. In the 2015–16 school year, 88 percent of white students graduated high school, compared to only 79 percent of Hispanic and 76 percent of black students.5 In 2016, 42 percent of white 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in college—more than the 36 percent college enrollment rate for black young adults but not measurably different from the 39 percent of Hispanic young adults. College enrollment for Hispanic young adults has actually grown steadily since 2010, when the rate was only 22 percent.6

The scale of these policy changes—and the persistence of achievement gaps and inequities—makes this an opportune moment to take stock of the perspectives of the American public, parents, students, educators and employers on K–12 education. This report pulls together findings from a range of surveys that explore the perspectives of particular populations on specific topics in K–12 education to provide a broader picture of public opinion across multiple topics. In doing so, it seeks to identify common ground and contradictions that emerge within and between populations. Elevating the views of the public, parents, students, educators and employers can help position future communications, research and engagement to address the concerns, beliefs and values these stakeholders bring to education so their voices will drive policy change and implementation.

Through a review of recent opinion research and original focus groups conducted with employers at small businesses and organizations, this report provides insight into public and other stakeholder opinion on the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of public K–12 education?
  • What should students learn in K–12 education?
  • What do employers say about employees, the workforce and K–12 education?
  • How do people think schools measure up?
  • What are the challenges faced by K–12 education today?
  • Who is responsible for improving K–12 education?