On its face, the headline is pretty alarming:
Americans’ confidence in the nation’s public education system, as measured by a Gallup poll, has plummeted to an all-time low.
Less than one-third of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in public schools, according to the most recent numbers — down from the historic high of 58 percent in 1973.
But a quick look at this chart from the Economix blog tells the bigger story:
It’s not just our faith in public schools that’s been shaken.
The only institution in which America’s confidence remains strong is the military, which hasn’t had less than two-thirds of the country’s trust since the late ’90s.
But almost uniformally, every institution on which Gallup polled Americans’ confidence — from the Congress, to big banks, to business, to news media and even organized religion — has decreased over the past three decades.
Americans, in fact, are only marginally more confident in the Presidency (37 percent) than they are in the public schools (29 percent).
Declining confidence in institutions and cutting funds for those institutions can be a self-perpetuating cycle.
People lose faith in their government institutions, perhaps because those institutions are poorly run or because pundits declare that the institutions are poorly run (usually, some combination of the two, it seems). Voters and/or their politicians then sharply cut funds for those institutions. Insufficient funds and staffing then make these institutions even less effective, reducing confidence in them further and thereby prompting even more cuts. And so on.