It’s time to listen to what Millennials are telling us about education priorities

If you want a peek at where our educational priorities might land in about 10 years, take a look at this poll.

Here are a few hot-button findings that jump out from “Education in America: The Views of Millennials:”

  • Millennials support school choice, both charters and vouchers, especially if the vouchers help low-income families afford private school.
  • Millennials think there is too much testing in schools, but they also don’t believe parents should be allowed to opt-out their children.
  • Millennials believe classroom standards are too low and schools don’t do a good job of preparing students for the work world.
  • Most Millennials agree that U.S. schools are not being held accountable for the performance of students of color.
  • Millennials have very different views about racial inequities, and not surprisingly, those divides break down around race.

This poll was conducted by the highly respected NORC research group and crafted by a team of University of Chicago academics as part of new project called GenForward, which seeks to make the diversity of Millennial voices, perspectives and policy preferences more prominent in the politics and policies of our country.

As the report states:

“Despite many young adults giving high marks to their own schools and those in their community, they also have critiques about the current system…At the top of Millennials’ list of best ways to improve kindergarten through 12th grade is increasing school funding, followed by improving teacher training, and increasing teacher pay.”

In some ways, the themes that emerge in this poll echo some of the same truisms–and inconsistencies–that we see in education surveys of parents and other older respondents. They want change, but they don’t want to disrupt the status quo. They want schools to get better, and most of that improvement is focused of more money and better teachers. They don’t like standardized testing, but they aren’t willing to scrap it until we can find a better a way to measure how well schools are doing.

What I found most fascinating about this poll is how the beliefs of students around school equity and disparate discipline policies fell so starkly along racial lines–and how brave some of those questions were. These are the kinds of questions that most edu-polls don’t get into, and if subjects like racial achievement gaps are explored, most parents tend to blame themselves or their kids for their underachievement.

Three-quarters of Millennials agree that students from low income families get a worse education than kids from affluent families, which makes me a little worried about the 20 percent who would disagree with something so glaringly obvious and so broadly accepted as true regardless of political persuasion.

But when asked the same question about educational equity, but about this time about race, the broad consensus crumbled. When asked about whether non-white students get a worse education than whites, it was only the majority of African-Americans and Asian Americans–but not a majority of whites and Latinxs–who believed this. This racial divide surfaced on other equity issues.

The majorities of African Americans (54%) and Asian Americans (52%) agreed with the statement that students should go to racially diverse schools even if many of the students do not live nearby. In contrast, majorities of Latinxs (61%) and whites (73%), agreed with the statement that students should go to local community schools even if it means most students are of the same race.

We also see this divide in the extent to which Millennials favor policies that would prevent schools from expelling or suspending Black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students, presented in Figure 18. While African Americans (54%) represent the only group for whom a majority favor such policies, Asian Americans are not far behind (47%). However, majorities of whites, Latinxs and Asian Americans oppose policies that would prevent schools from expelling or suspending Black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students.

Whites and Asians were more likely to blame discipline disparities on strict discipline policies at under-resourced schools and on behavioral problems by black and brown students, while African-American and Latinx students were more likely to blame white privilege, which allows white kids to get away with more and a lack of sensitivity by white teachers and administrators.

All in all, studies like these bear a closer look. They are asking provocative questions of a generation that soon will have far more influence than Baby Boomers in teachers unions, PTAs and school boards.


Photo from GenForward website.

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Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy Dell'Angela

Tracy loves to ask questions and write stories. She roots for the underdog, wants our nation to reimagine schools and the teaching profession, and seethes about how much school inequity she sees. She spent most of her career as a journalist covering schools and crime. She and her husband raised two daughters in a diverse suburb of Chicago. She currently runs an education foundation in her community and formerly served as managing editor of Education Post. After leaving journalism she explored her wonkier side communicating school research at the University of Chicago and the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. She is Californian by birth and a Chicagoan in spirit. She loves the outdoors and all animals, especially her spoiled "dingo" dog.

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