According to a new poll, Americans tend to think their local schools are better than the rest of the schools nationwide.
In the 2016 EdNext poll, a majority of Americans gave their local schools either an A or B grade. This was true across several demographic groups, including whites, Hispanics, Republicans and Democrats. Only 45 percent of African-Americans gave their local schools an A or B.
But when asked to grade public schools in the nation as a whole, Americans are more pessimistic. About 75 percent of Americans grade the nation's public schools as a C, D or F. Majorities of all demographic groups said as much. Hispanics are the demographic group most satisfied with the nation's public schools, with 46 percent giving them an A or B grade.
Interestingly, Americans tend to think their local schools spend less per student than the nation's schools as a whole, despite having the impression that their local schools are better than the nation's schools.
Why the disparities? The academics behind the poll, Paul Peterson (Harvard), Michael Henderson (Louisiana State), Martin West (Harvard) and Samuel Barrows (Harvard), say not everyone can be right about their schools being better than that nation's.
In a report on the polling results, they write, "Since the nation's schools are simply the sum of all the local schools in the country, and opinions in a nationally representative survey reflect attitudes toward local schools across the country, how can there be such a sharp difference?"
For one, how people consume their news could create the gap. "People tend to hear mostly good news about their community schools and almost all glum news about the nation's schools in general," they write. When people do a Google search for information on the nation's schools, the titles are mainly negative. Searches for information on local schools tend to show websites with "great schools" rankings.
There's also the tendency to view what we're familiar with more favorably than the abstract. "People often prefer the familiar to the less well known and the proximate to the distant. In this case, citizens have some direct acquaintance with their local schools to which they or their friends and neighbors are sending their children, but the nation's schools remain a distant abstraction about which they have little direct information."
It may also be that people simply overestimate how good their local schools are. This is a phenomenon also seen in parents.
One poll found that 90 percent of parents with students in grades K-8 think their child is learning at grade level. But according to the Nation's Report Card, fewer than half of students are proficient in math and reading. Just like with schools, not every parent who thinks their child is learning at grade level can be right.
The 2016 EdNext Poll also found that support for Common Core dropped to a new low, and that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support school vouchers.
Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.