Call Us the ‘Exhausted Majority’: New Study Reveals People Value Character, Not College

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According to a new study by Populace, Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the way Americans think about education. Instead of placing a very high priority on a college education, as we did before the pandemic, the “exhausted majority” of Americans  just want kids to learn to think for themselves and find a career “with meaning and purpose.”

Here are the top takeaways:

College Should No Longer Be the End Goal of K-12 Education:

Before COVID, respondents ranked being prepared to enroll in a college or university as their 10th highest priority for K-12 education. In post-COVID America, this is no longer the case. When given 57 priorities for children’s K-12 education, Americans ranked it as #47. However they believe it is other people’s third-highest priority, demonstrating a deep societal misunderstanding of one another.

Practical Skills & Outcomes Should Be the End Goal:

Respondents reported developing practical skills as the #1 priority for education outcomes, and consistently prioritized practical, tangible skills and outcomes over lofty ideals and other short-term goals.

Individualized Education Is the Future, One-Size-Fits-All Is the Past:

Respondents not only deprioritized one-size-fits-all approaches to K-12 education (e.g. evaluating students through standardized tests, providing every student the same amount of support and resources, etc.), they also actively prioritized attributes that enabled education to be tailored to meet each child’s needs (e.g. allowing children to learn at their own pace, providing unique supports, etc.).

Education Priorities Vary Immensely by Race:

While developing critical thinking and practical skills were shared priorities, there are noticeable differences across each racial group. The report highlights these shared priorities and unique differences, which further indicate that the current one-size-fits-all approach to education fails to address the needs and wants of students and parents.

“Better” Is No Longer the Goal — “Different” Is:

One of the most prevalent threads across the data illustrates that Americans are fed up with the current education system, beyond the point of wanting improvements to the existing structure. 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.

A summary by Axios finds 55% of Americans “want schools to rethink how best to teach kids rather than just get back to the way things were before COVID (34%) — even as they assume society cares more about the latter.” We also have distorted ideas of how others think about education, assuming society sees college as the priority even though most people place that far lower on the list. Also, those polled perceived “students demonstrating character” wasn’t valued by others while, in fact, this attribute was rated 3d in importance.

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