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Poll Shows Public Support for Reforms

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Lansing, Mich--Michigan residents believe the state's schools should demand more from both students and teachers, and they are willing to pay more taxes for education if schools can demonstrate the need.

Those are among the results of a scientific survey of 400 state residents, commissioned by the state department of education. The poll, state education officials say, represents the first effort by a state to gauge public reaction to the May report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

That report, "A Nation at Risk," criticized public schools for offering a "cafeteria-style curriculum" and for requiring too little of students.

Michigan residents appear to agree. A large majority favored more homework, the use of competency exams as a requirement for high-school graduation, and increased academic requirements.

Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed said teachers should be "required to demonstrate competency" in their fields, and 87 percent said standards for becoming a teacher should be higher. But only 56 percent said teachers deserved better pay, while 76 percent endorsed a system of merit pay for teachers, as the national commission's report recommends.

Half the residents surveyed said they would be willing to pay higher taxes "to help finance major improvements in public schools." And more than two-thirds said they would pay more if schools could demonstrate real need. (Recent millage elections in the state support this contention; referendums earlier this summer had the highest rate of approval in recent years.)

Following the release of the poll results, Superintendent of Public Instruction Phillip E. Runkel called on local districts to form "at-risk committees" to consider the recommendations made by the national commission. He said that even though the poll showed strong public support for those recommendations, he will not ask the state board to mandate improvements.

"I believe change occurs when it happens at the local level," Mr. Runkel said. "If the state mandates graduation requirements, it would also have to pay for those. Obviously, in Michigan, that's something we look at very cautiously."

The statewide poll has a margin of error of 5 percentage points. It is part of a $100,000 project by the state department of education to assess educational quality and public attitudes toward schools.

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