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Gallup Poll Finds Doubts Goals Can Be Met by 2000

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By Lynn Olson

WASHINGTON--Americans support the national education goals adopted last February by President Bush and the nation's governors but doubt they can be achieved by the year 2000, according to the 22nd Annual Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll.

More than three-quarters of the 1,594 adults interviewed by the Gallup Organization in April and May attached a high priority to all six of the national goals.

But only 19 percent to 50 percent of the respondents believed that any particular goal was likely or very likely to be achieved in the next 10 years.

The only objective that even half the respondents thought the nation might attain by the turn of the century was preparing all children to learn before they begin school.

"My guess is that if you took the same public and really probed with them what's going to be required to achieve that goal ... the percentage would go down," said Lowell C. Rose, executive director of Phi Delta Kappa International, at a press conference here to release the survey results.

Mr. Rose attributed people's skepticism in part to their conviction that societal ills--rather than the quality of the schools--are largely responsible for school problems.

Only 22 percent of the respondents believed public schools in their communities had gotten better in the last five years; 30 percent believed they had gotten worse; and 36 percent believed they had stayed about the same.

Those surveyed rated drug use as the biggest problem facing the schools, outranking both lack of discipline and lack of proper financial support by substantial margins.

This year's survey also delved into the question of public-school choice, which has become a controversial item on many legislative agendas.

As in 1989, a sizable majority of those surveyed (62 percent) favored allowing families to choose among public schools.

"That places the public and the educational establishment for theart in opposition to each other," said Mr. Rose.

This year, respondents were asked to specify which aspects of a public school would influence their choices the most. Teacher quality, student discipline, and curriculum were judged very important by at least three-fourths of those surveyed.

But class and school size, the track record of school graduates, and proximity to the student's home were also rated important by large majority.

In a finding that researchers were reluctant to interpret, 45 percent of white and 67 percent of nonwhite respondents said the racial or ethnic composition of the student body would influence their choice of school.

Opponents of choice frequently have argued that such programs could resegregate schools. But it is not clear from the survey results whether respondents would favor schools with more or less integrated enrollments, said Sarah Van Allen, project director for the survey at the Gallup Organization.

Respondents were also asked their opinion on another controversial topic: involving parents in school decisionmaking.

A large majority of those surveyed said parents have little or no say in determining the curriculum, selecting instructional materials, and hiring teachers and administrators.

In contrast, more than 40 percent of those polled in 1989 believed that parents should have a greater say in these areas.

Educators and the general public may also be at loggerheads on the issue of grade retention. As in past years, most of the public (67 percent) believe that children should be promoted from grade to grade only if they pass examinations.

Indeed, a majority of those polled thought that students would more likely drop out of school if they failed such tests and were promoted than if they were forced to repeat a grade.

That perception runs directly counter to research, which suggests grade retention may be harmful to children.

Finally, although white adults appear convinced that, on the whole, minority and nonminority children have the same educational opportunities, a disturbing 38 percent of nonwhite respondents continue to perceive inequality in education.

Much of that dissatisfaction apamong respondents in large cities, where minority populations are concentrated.

Copies of the poll are available at $10 for 25 copies from Gallup Poll, Phi Delta Kappa, P.O. Box 789, Bloomington, Ind. 47402-0789. For more information on the poll, call PDK at (812) 339-1156.

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