One of the few things Americans tend to agree on is that our public education system isn’t giving all of our students what they need to succeed after graduation. In the face of difficult job markets, increased automation, surprise elections and sky-high college tuition fees, we’ve spent the last two decades trying out idea after idea to “fix” a broken system. Despite all the ideas and agreements, stubborn opportunity gaps and inequities remain.

With the rapid changes to the system, in the process of our Education program’s strategy refresh this year, we wanted to understand where Americans differ in their opinions about the role of public education itself, and how we could do a better job of communicating about it. Public Agenda’s recently completed report, Our Next Assignment: Where Americans Stand on Public Education, was based on reviews of several existing public opinion polls and three live focus groups with employers across the country. The overarching themes that they uncovered reveal a great deal about the narratives that surround education in our country, and how effective communications strategies can draw on them.