The 51st annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Towards the Public Schools was released this week. Education advocate Mark Tallman with the Kansas Association of School Boards notes that there is still a difference in how people think of education in general and how they look at their own school.

“The schools they know best, where their kids go or in their community, they rate much higher than schools they really don’t know very much about,” said Tallman. “Some people believe that is in part because the bad news [about schools they are unfamiliar with] sells more. That’s what we tend to hear.”

Fewer than 20 percent give the nation’s schools a grade of A or B, and just 44 percent give those grades to schools in their community, but 76 percent, near an all-time high, give their own children’s schools an A or B.

“People hear examples of things they don’t like in education,” said Tallman. “Some of that may be legitimate, but then, their own kids, they feel, yes, my school, they’re welcoming my kids, they’re supporting them. My child is getting a pretty good education.”

Which is it? Are schools better off or worse off than perception?

“Really, schools are maybe doing better than we think,” said Tallman. “The people most familiar with them rate them well. A little bit of that may be, I like my school, because I’m comfortable with it, but maybe it isn’t as challenging as it should be. That’s one of the problems we have with improving education.”

It’s also an open question as to how much learning for students should be self-directed and how much should be dictated by either educators or the marketplace.