THE LATEST Pew Philadelphia Poll offers some revealing numbers about what city residents think of the public schools.

The short answer is: not much.

According to Pew, 77 percent of city residents rate the district's performance as either poor or fair. Only 19 percent rate it as good or excellent. These are depressing numbers about a system with the important and vital job of educating our children.

The good news is that Philadelphians seemed to have woken up when it comes to education. In the Pew poll, 32 percent of the respondents said it was the most important issue facing the city - far more than the 23 percent who named crime as the top issue facing Philadelphia.

No wonder we are hearing so much about education in this year's races for mayor and City Council. Nearly every candidate has a position paper on education, including the mayoral candidates. They know that voters care.

That said, the disturbing reality is that most Philadelphians do not have a direct stake in the public schools. Only 15 percent of the adults polled by Pew said that they had children currently enrolled in the public schools.

Only 1 in 4 households in the city have children of school age, and a large number do not send those children to public schools. Instead, they go to charter, private and Catholic schools.

For decades, middle-class and wealthier parents avoided the public schools. Now, with tuition-free charters, many poor and minority parents have fled the district as well.

If the district were a politician, you would say he has a weak base.

Of course, if the district were a politician with an approval rating of below 20 percent, that pol would be voted out of office.

This election season already has featured a lot of talk about charter vs. public schools. But it is not an either/or situation.

What the Pew poll tells us is that Philadelphians - whether they have a direct stake in the system or not - believe that education is the most important issue facing the city.

We'd like to think it is because they get the fact that getting a good education is not only important to the future of our children, but also to the city at large.

If we can't educate our children, we condemn them to an unfulfilled life, where they can't get good jobs that pay decent wages. If they were born poor, they stay poor.

The city needs an educated populace. We need not only good workers, but good citizens as well, people who can contribute their brains and their brawn.

When it comes to solutions, people generally don't have the time or inclination to dig into the issues. They express their will by voting for candidates whom they feel will best represent their interests.

The people have made it clear that they think the current system is broken and needs to be repaired. They also have made it clear that they place a high importance on making it work.

The men and women running for public office this year should pay close attention to the results of the Pew poll. People don't want frivolous or unrealistic plans. They don't want the rhetoric of us vs. them, regardless of who the "us" is.

What they want - what they deserve - are sound ideas and creative solutions and, more than anything else, the political will to make the difficult decisions needed to repair the educational system. It's that important to them.