It is common in public opinion research for people’s average assessment of their own circumstances to differ considerably from their assessment of the average for others. Usually, they think that their own situation is better than other people’s. One reason for this is that media reports more bad news than good, giving us an ubalanced impression of how well other people are doing.
Data published recently (xls) by the US National Center for Education Statistics, based on Gallup Poll surveys, shows this pattern of opinion in American evaluations of public schools. On a scale of 1 to 4 (4 being the most positive) public school parents almost always rate their local community school at least 0.5 higher than they rate the nation’s schools. They also always rate their local community school more highly than people who don’t have kids at school, and usually rate the nation’s schools slightly more highly than people who don’t have kids at school.
While in the case of issues like public schools the whole sample is politically relevant, I would take the views of parents as being the more reliable assessment of what is going on American public schools. Generally, they give their local school around 2.5 out of a possible 4.
I don’t know of any directly comparable ratings of Australian schools, but there is a question in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes that asks about trends in the standard of public education over the last two years. Those whose oldest child is at a government school are slightly more pessimisitic about trends than people who have no children or whose children are too young to go to school. 46% of government school parents think things are getting worse and 15% think things are getting better (42%/16% among those without kids at school).
As government school parents are being asked here to judge public education in general, and not the particular school their kids attend, I expect we would get more positive results if the question was about their local school. But if that personal experience is more positive, it is not flowing through to government school parents assessing the system more favourably than those without recent direct experience of it.