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American Public Ready for National Curriculum, Achievement Standards, Annual Gallup Poll Finds

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The American public would welcome the establishment of national achievement standards and a national curriculum for public schools, according to the annual Gallup Poll on education.

Seventy percent of the 1,584 adults surveyed last spring said they favor requiring local schools "to conform to national achievement standards and goals"; 77 percent endorsed the idea of testing students to determine whether they meet those standards. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed voiced support for the institution of a "standardized national curriculum."

These views represent a shift from earlier surveys, which "generally supported the American tradition of local control of schools," the poll said. While the public may still endorse that tradition, and, as suggested by past polls, look askance at federal intervention, "a consensus appears to be building for more uniformity in public-school programs," the poll reported.

Former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, who served on the advisory panel for the poll, greeted the findings warmly. "I'm a strong advocate of more central focus on education, more concern on the national level," he said. This could be achieved, he added, while "still leaving enough latitude for local control."

Although 61 percent of those favoring national achievement standards think professional educators should set them, Mary Hatwood Futrell, the former president of the National Education Association, viewed the idea more warily.

The n.e.a. would "be willing to sit down and talk" with proponents of the concept, she said. But Ms. Futrell emphasized the need for increased funds to implement such a program. "You can't have uniform national standards without uniform national funding," she said.

Americans also favor the notion of school choice by a wide margin, although they are less sure it will have a salutary effect, the poll reported.

Three-fifths of those polled favor "allowing students and their parents to choose which public schools in [their] community the students attend." Yet 52 percent said they thought school choice would have little, or even a negative, effect on student achievement.

Despite this apparent ambivalence, Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos welcomed the findings. He cited the poll as evidence the public supports the Bush Administration's reform agenda, "with school choice as the cornerstone."

For the fourth consecutive year, drug abuse was most often cited as the "biggest problem" for public8schools. Thirty-four percent said drug use was their schools' most pressing problem, while 19 percent cited "lack of discipline," and 13 percent "lack of proper financial support."

As in previous years, the poll asked respondents to grade their schools. Forty-three percent of those polled gave their local schools an A or B, compared with 40 percent last year.

Among the poll's other findings:

Eighty-three percent of those polled think "more should be done" to improve schools in poorer communities; 62 percent of that group were willing to pay higher taxes to fund such improvements.

Seventy-one percent favor more after-school programs for students whose parents work.

Sixty-three percent of those surveyed favor giving school principals more authority.

Forty-eight percent favor lengthening the school day or year, but 44 percent oppose such moves.

Sixty-one percent think students ought to be required to perform community service as a prerequisite to graduation.

Eighty-three percent favor more government assistance for college-bound students.

The poll was sponsored by Phi Delta Kappa, the professional education fraternity. Copies of the poll are available from Phi Delta Kappa, P.O. Box 789, Bloomington, Ind. 47402. The cost is $10 for 25 copies.

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