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Poll: Majority of Americans find inequity in our education system

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±2.4% margin of error; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

A strong majority of Americans say our public education system is unequal, and half say the nation's schools aren't well equipped to help children of all races and ethnicities succeed, according to a new Axios-Ipsos survey.

Why it matters: As our nation becomes more diverse and confronts racial discrimination, Americans want our school systems to live up to the promise of providing a more equal opportunity for all children to succeed.

Eight in 10 Americans say public education is unequal, with different outcomes based on where you live.

  • They’re not wrong. Our survey confirmed what some academic studies have shown: wide disparities in access to high quality education, funding, college prep courses and counseling services. These inequalities track along socioeconomic and racial lines.
  • That disparity has only grown during the pandemic, as online learning has exposed the haves and have nots of America’s K-12 system, with poorer districts struggling. Meanwhile, most private schools are providing in-person classroom learning.
  • Americans are divided on whether schools are equipped to help children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds "get ahead," with 51 percent saying they agree with that statement while 48 percent disagree.

The big picture: While a majority of Americans rate their own educational experience as "good" or "excellent," they also say the time has come to provide a more accurate picture of our nation's history.

  • A majority, 68% percent, agree with the statement that "Public schools in America should teach more about racism as a part of American history lessons."
  • Overall, a majority of Americans (77%) say what they learned in school about American history was accurate, while 23% said it was not accurate. White Americans (84%) were most likely to say what they learned was accurate, while just 55% of Black Americans think so.

What they're saying: “There is a broad recognition that most Americans have not learned enough about the role of Black, Hispanic, Native, and Asian Americans in building this country.," said Chris Jackson, senior vice president of public affairs at Ipsos. "Despite some of the culture war heat, most Americans appear to want a broader curriculum about all our founders.”

White and Asian Americans are far more likely to say they attended a “top rated” school with “sufficient funding” when compared with Black or Hispanic Americans. The survey did not have a large enough sample size to provide data for Native Americans.

  • Overall, Hispanic/Latino Americans were the group least likely to rate their education experience as well-funded, top rated, or safe.
  • 67 percent of white Americans and 62 percent of Asian Americans say they attended a “top rated” school, compared with just 53% of Hispanic Americans and 57% of Black Americans.
  • Hispanic Americans were most likely to say they attended a school that was not safe. One in four said that, compared with just 9 percent of white Americans and 7 percent of Asian Americans. 15 percent of Black Americans said their school was not safe.
  • Half of Black Americans and 45 percent of Hispanic Americans there was a police presence at their school, compared with just a third of white and Asian students.
  • Similarly, 57% of Black students and over half of Latino/Hispanic students (55%) said their schools had “sufficient funding,” compared to 68% of Asian Americans and 77% of white Americans.

Hispanic/Latino and Black Americans are the least likely to say their K-12 experience prepared them for careers after high school.

  • Just over a third of Hispanic and Black Americans say they had money to pay for at least a portion of college. A majority (59 percent) of white and (73 percent) Asian Americans said they could do so.
  • And just 57 percent of Hispanic/Latino Americans said their schools offered advanced placement or college prep courses, compared with three-fourths of Asian Americans who said the same.
  • Among Hispanics, a third said no one had talked to them about going to college. That was true for just one in five white Americans.

The bottom line: A majority of Americans say education is the great equalizer, but through their lived experiences, Americans say we're falling short of that ideal.

About the survey: The Axios-Ipsos survey was conducted in English and Spanish Nov. 4-12 with 1,999 American adults with a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percentage points and 95% confidence level. The survey included 718 white Americans, 515 Black Americans, 524 Hispanic Americans and 199 Asian Americans.

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