Published: Aug 25, 2010 6:43 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 25, 2010 3:42 PM EDT

SEATTLE (AP) - A new Gallup Poll has found fewer Americans approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing in support of public education, but they continue to have a highly favorable opinion of their local schools.

The drop in the president's education approval ratings - as found in the random telephone poll of about 1,000 Americans in June - mirrored the drop in his general approval rating in other recent polls, said Shane Lopez, senior scientist in residence for Gallup.

The education poll released Wednesday was paid for by Phi Delta Kappa. It found 34 percent gave the president a grade of A or B for his work in support of public schools, compared with 45 percent at the same time in 2009. The poll has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points, except for questions asked of just parents, which have a sampling error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Those polled gave even worse grades for the quality of the nation's schools but said they approve of their local schools.

Americans picked school budgets and improving teacher quality as their top education issues but said they were mostly unaware of the impact of Congress' stimulus dollars on education.

"We have a love affair with our local schools, especially the schools that our children attend," Lopez said. But that doesn't mean people have a deep knowledge of how schools get the money that makes them succeed, he added.

Nearly half the people interviewed gave their local public schools an A or B for the quality of their work, and another 33 percent said local schools deserved a C. Only 5 percent of those polled said their local schools were failing.

The numbers were rosier when people were asked to judge the school their own child attended. About 77 percent said the school their oldest child attended deserved an A or B.

That's the best grade people have given their local schools in the 41 years Phi Delta Kappa, which calls itself a global association of education professionals, has conducted its national poll on education, said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

When it comes to public schools in the nation as a whole, Americans are less satisfied, the poll found.

Only 18 percent said they would give the nation's schools an A or B, with another 53 percent giving the nation's schools a C. Only 6 percent said the nation's schools were failing, but another 20 percent said they deserved a D.

"This is almost like 'not in my backyard' in reverse," Domenech said. Americans love their neighborhood schools, but they think everybody else's schools are failing, he said.

The PDK/Gallup poll has been criticized in previous years for framing its questions to validate the organization's agenda - support for smaller classes and higher teacher pay and criticism of the No Child Left Behind law.

Phi Delta Kappa critic Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, thinks the organization did a slightly better job this year of exploring the issues of the day. But she dislikes the way the poll was presented - in an 18-page policy brief filled with comments from teachers, union officials and other education advocacy groups.

And she didn't find the poll took an objective approach.  "I'm not so sure this is a public opinion survey, rather than an attempt to influence people to think in a certain way about the issues," Allen said.

For example, the poll asked people to comment on the way the Obama administration is trying to turn around failing schools. But one of the choices on the list of reform ideas is not on the federal government's list of turnaround models.

About 41 percent of those polled picked one of the government-approved plans for turnaround - closing a school, turning it into a charter, or firing all the teachers and the principal and starting over - while 54 percent said they would prefer to keep both the principal and teachers in place and give them comprehensive outside support.

Allen said she was stunned the pollsters did not ask how much people knew about the issues. She would guess that about half of Americans have no clue about the debate over the effectiveness of public schools.