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How Are We Doing at Meeting Our Goals?

A Gallup poll, conducted for Phi Delta Kappa, indicates broad support for America's education goals.

The American public supports a broad range of measures to improve student achievement, according to the latest Gallup survey conducted for Phi Delta Kappa. (Source: Daily Report Card.)

Placing a computer in every classroom (81 percent), establishing national standards for measuring the academic performance of the public schools (77 percent), moving chronic "troublemakers" into alternative programs (77 percent), and allowing students to attend the public school of their choice (73 percent) are some of the specific ideas approved by the public in the 29th annual PDK poll.

Other measures to improve student achievement that won broad approval include: using standardized national tests to measure the academic achievement of students (67 percent), ability-level grouping (66 percent), establishing a national curriculum (66 percent), and providing health-care services in schools (61 percent).

The public attributes three factors to the success of some public schools over others: parental support (97 percent), the amount of money spent (91 percent), and the kinds of students enrolled (67 percent).

Americans surveyed approved all three of President Clinton's proposals to improve public schools, enhance student achievement, and provide incentives for students to succeed in school. Specifically, 82 percent of respondents approved Clinton's proposed tax credit for parents of first-year college students; two-thirds of respondents favor the proposal for placing a computer with Internet access in every public school classroom; and, in the least supported proposal, 57 percent support Clinton's plan to test student achievement at the fourth-grade and eighth-grade levels.

The survey also found that, while satisfied with their community schools, respondents appear to be more willing than in previous years to approve government financial support for students who wish to attend nonpublic schools. To counter charges that past questions on private-school choice were tainted by using the phrase "public expense," this year's poll used a split-sample design to study the question. While 44 percent of Americans support allowing students to attend private schools at "public expense," a majority (52 percent) opposed it. When the phrase "government expense" is used, the public is evenly divided, with 48 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed.

The survey also found that support for private-school choice has been growing since 1993, when just 24 percent were in favor.

Other findings from the report: 43 percent of respondents said state takeovers would not have much effect on the academic achievement of students in a public school; 52 percent said gifted students should be placed in separate classes; and 63 percent said extracurricular activities are very important.

According to the survey, the biggest problems facing local schools are: lack of discipline (15 percent); lack of financial support (15 percent); use of drugs (14 percent); and fighting/violence/gangs (12 percent).

In a press release, U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley indicated his pleasure over the support given to voluntary national tests. (Click here for his complete statement.)

Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers noted Americans' support for public schools. "Elected officials, take note: the public wants public schools fixed, not abandoned, and they're not afraid of national standards and national tests for students," Feldman said.

U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) also issued a press release, commenting on the private-school choice response that found 55 percent of public school parents supporting school choice. "Too many of our nation's children are trapped in failing public schools that consign children to a life of limited opportunities, hopelessness and despair." Armey said. "These kids need a way out, and they need it now. The time for school choice has come." Armey is the sponsor of school-choice legislation for disadvantaged children in the District of Columbia.

Reprints of the published report are available from Phi Delta Kappa. The minimum order for reprints of the 1997 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup education poll is 25 copies for $10, with additional copies available at 25 cents each. The 664-page document that is the basis for the published report, including both the figures for the total sample and for the public school parent oversample, is available at $95 per copy. Prices include postage for delivery at the library rate. To place an order, write to Phi Delta Kappa, P.O. Box 789, Bloomington, IN 47402; or call (800)766-1156.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
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