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Poll: Minorities More Sanguine About Prospects for Schools

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WASHINGTON--Although African-Americans and Hispanics tend to see more problems with their local public schools than whites do, they are also more optimistic about the schools' chances for improvement and about their own children's future academic attainment, according to a survey released here last week.

The survey was the third in a series of national education polls commissioned by the National PTA and Newsweek magazine. It was the first in the series to provide comparisons by racial and ethnic group.

Among the poll's findings:

  • Half of white adults interviewed said they believe public school funding is adequate, compared with 41 percent of blacks and 35 percent of Hispanics.
  • Twenty-seven percent of blacks and 25 percent of Hispanics said their local schools have serious racial problems, compared with 14 percent of whites.
  • Although 61 percent of whites said their local schools are "extremely'' or "very'' safe, only 43 percent of blacks and 44 percent of Hispanics held similar views.

The findings are from telephone interviews held in February with 1,148 adults, 806 of whom had at least one child enrolled at the K-12 level. The sample included 562 whites, 282 African-Americans, and 284 Hispanics.

NuStats, an Austin, Tex.-based firm specializing in research on minorities, conducted the survey. The results were published in the May 17 issue of Newsweek.

Advanced Degrees Expected

Over all, 66 percent of whites gave their local schools an A or B rating, compared with 59 percent of blacks and 62 percent of Hispanics.

When asked about their expectations for public schools over the next five years, however, minority-group respondents tended to be more optimistic than whites. Sixty-four percent of blacks and 46 percent of Hispanics predicted that the schools would "greatly improve'' or "somewhat improve'' over that period; 39 percent of whites held similar views.

In addition, higher percentages of minority-group members surveyed said they thought their children would earn advanced degrees. Fifty-three percent of black parents and half of Hispanic parents said they expected their children to someday receive a master's degree or doctorate, compared with only 34 percent of whites.

There was less difference among the groups, however, in expectations for children's attainment of a bachelor's degree. Seventy-eight percent of African-American parents, 70 percent of white parents, and 67 percent of Hispanic parents said they thought their children would graduate from a four-year college.

At a press conference held to release the survey results, Carlos Rice, the president of NuStats, said the findings reinforce other research indicating that minority parents have higher expectations for their children than whites do, "even in light of evidence that would suggest that they're not going to make it that far.''

"These positive expectations of schools and their children's academic success by minority parents,'' Pat Henry, the president of the National PTA, said, "may reflect a belief that education represents the primary tool for success in this society.''

"It is up to schools, communities, businesses, and all levels of government to help make these high aspirations attainable goals for all children,'' Ms. Henry said.

Reform Ideas Rated

The survey respondents were also asked their opinions on specific education reforms.

Among all racial groups, small majorities endorsed proposals for national testing of students, site-based decisionmaking, and public school choice; blacks and Hispanics expressed more support than whites for all three ideas.

Proposals for combining on-the-job training with academics for students who do not plan to attend college drew strong support. Among all the adults surveyed, 84 percent gave the idea the highest or second-highest rating on a seven-point scale.

Also at last week's press conference, Ms. Henry, as she has in the past, urged that the six national education goals adopted in 1990 be expanded to include a call for improved parental involvement in schools.

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