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Few Trust Politicians To Improve Schools, Gallup Poll Shows

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Although the public supports efforts to improve schools and believes they need more funding, it lacks confidence in the ability of political leaders to effect change in education, according to the annual Gallup Poll on education.

Elected officials at all levels of government received uniformly low grades in the survey.

Congress received the worst ratings, with 52 percent of respondents giving it a D or F for its efforts to improve public schools; only 7 percent awarded it an A or B.

President Bush also received poor marks for his education record, with 46 percent of respondents giving him a D or F, compared with 15 percent who thought he merited an A or B.

State officials fared slightly better. Nineteen percent of respondents gave their governors an A or B, and 14 percent gave their state legislators these high marks. However, 40 percent of respondents gave their governors D's or F's and 41 percent gave their state legislators similarly low grades.

The poll was commissioned by the professional education fraternity Phi Delta Kappa, which has published a survey of American attitudes toward public education each fall since 1969.
More Money

For the first time in the poll's 24-year history, respondents cited inadequate financial support as the top obstacle faced by schools. Funding tied with drug use as the greatest problem in public education, both being cited by 22 percent of the 1,306 participants in this year's survey.

When asked to assess the general state of the nation's schools, only 18 percent of respondents awarded them an A or B. Respondents offered more favorable reviews of their own local schools, with 40 percent giving them an A or B.

The survey also found that a minority of respondents knew of the six national education goals adopted by President Bush and the nation's governors. The least-known goal was "American students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement,'' which 23 percent of respondents recognized. The most familiar goal was "By the year 2000, all children will start school ready to learn,'' which 28 percent knew.

When asked to evaluate the progress made toward each of the six goals, a majority of respondents--ranging from 58 percent on the school-readiness goal to 65 percent on the safe and drug-free schools goal--said little or none had been made. Those who said they believed "quite a lot'' or "a great deal'' of progress had been made ranged from 11 percent on the math and science goal to 20 percent on the school-readiness goal.

Other Findings

Among the survey's other findings:

  • A 210-day school year was supported by a majority of respondents for the second year in a row, endorsed by 55 percent of respondents. Last year was the first time a majority supported a longer school year since the poll began including this question in 1981.
  • Seventy-one percent of respondents advocated using standardized national exams to measure students' academic achievements.
  • While 49 percent of respondents said they would pay higher taxes to fund preschool programs for children from low-income families, 42 percent said they would not. Sixty-four percent supported federally subsidized child-care programs for children from single-parent families or families where both parents work, but only 12 percent said such programs should be funded entirely by the federal government. Eighty-five percent said parents should assume part of the costs, based on their ability to pay.
  • About 68 percent of respondents said public schools should allow the distribution of condoms to students, with 43 percent saying condoms should be given to all students who want them and 25 percent saying that parental consent should be required. Another 25 percent said schools should not distribute condoms at all.

The poll's findings will be published in the September issue of Phi Delta Kappan magazine.

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