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Americans Give Public Schools High Grades


Share School Issues CenterVouchers are out, according to the latest Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, released yesterday. The poll found that attitudes are changing; three of every four Americans favor fixing up the nation's schools instead of spending public money for vouchers.

Investing in public schools is in, and vouchers are out, according to the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of trends in education. The Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools released yesterday shows that people's attitudes are changing. Three of every four Americans favor fixing up the nation's schools over spending public money for vouchers.

Poll Results at a Glance

The Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll released yesterday indicates that the vast majority of Americans prefer fixing up the country's schools to spending public money on vouchers. Other highlights of the survey include the following:

* The placement of qualified, competent teachers in every classroom offers the most promise for improving schools.

* A majority -- 56 percent -- opposed spending public money to send children to private schools.

* Zero-tolerance policies for taking weapons to school were supported by 87 percent.

* The majority -- 53 percent -- said that parents have the greatest affect on student achievement in school; only 26 percent placed that responsibility on the teachers.

* Preparing students to become responsible citizens and helping them become economically self-sufficient were listed as the most important purposes of public education.

* Providing a balanced education, not teaching basic skills, was considered a primary purpose of schools.

* Schools should teach students about protecting the environment.

* There should be more emphasis on educating kids about drug and alcohol abuse.

* Racial and ethnic understanding and tolerance should also receive more emphasis in school.

The survey also found that parents whose children attend local schools are very satisfied with their children's schools, which approaches an all-time high for parental satisfaction. In fact, wrote Lowell C. Rose and Alec M. Gallup in the poll's introduction, seven of ten parents gave their oldest child's school a grade of A or B, dispelling the myth that people are dissatisfied with public schools.

The lack of financial support for public schools topped the list of the most serious problems facing public schools today, edging out school violence and discipline concerns. Overcrowding and drugs were also among the top five problems public schools face.

HIGH GRADES FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION

Presidents of teachers' organizations and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said they were pleased with the strong support for public schools Americans indicated in the poll.

"Politicians who have declared the public schools a 'disaster' are out of sync with the American people," said Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), in a written statement. "This poll clearly shows, once again, the faith of the American people, particularly parents, in the public schools. Ask to choose between improving public schools or providing vouchers, Americans see a no-brainer -- they support public schools.

"Educational fads are taking a backseat to reforms that work, such as smaller class size, disciplined learning environments, well-qualified teachers, proven academic programs, and extra help for students who fall behind," Feldman explained. The AFT represents more than 1 million teachers and other school-related personnel.

STUDENT WORK -- NOT TESTS

Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association, agrees that the survey is good news for public schools. "This is reliable evidence that Americans understand it will take additional resources to meet our nation's goals in public-education improvement," Chase said in a written statement.

Chase pointed out that people have a common-sense attitude about public schools, noting in particular the responses about high-stakes testing. "Student testing needs to be restored to its rightful place in education -- a stethoscope for understanding how to teach students better, not a hammer to shake at students, teachers, and schools," he commented.

The poll found that 65 percent of parents whose kids go to public schools believe that tests should determine the kinds of instruction students will need in the future; only 30 percent thought tests should determine how much students have learned. Instead, 71 percent said that classroom work and homework are the best ways of measuring what students have learned.

NOT A BIPARTISAN ISSUE

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley welcomed the poll's results, which he said support the Clinton administration's initiatives to improve public education.

Riley warned, however, that public education should be above politics. "Even in this political season, it is important to remember that the fate and direction of public education in this country should not be a partisan issue," he said in a written statement.

Because this is an election year, the poll asked respondents about the political parties. The respondents said they consider the Democratic Party more interested in improving public education and the Republican Party more favorable to private schools. They placed the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates essentially at a dead heat, however, with 37 percent favoring Vice President Al Gore and 38 percent favoring the governor of Texas, George W. Bush.

The pollsters randomly selected 1,093 adults for this 32nd edition of the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward Public Schools.

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
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08/24/2000