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Published in Print: September 8, 1999, as Gallup Poll Finds Americans Committed To Public Schools

Gallup Poll Finds Americans Committed To Public Schools

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An overwhelming majority of Americans believe the nation should maintain its commitment to education through the public schools, according to a recent poll.

When presented with the choice of reforming the existing public school system or finding alternatives, 71 percent of those responding to the 31st edition of the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitude Toward the Public Schools indicated that the focus should be on reform.

"People are satisfied with their local schools," said Lowell C. Rose, the poll's director.

For More Information

The poll is available from Phi Delta Kappa, PO Box 789, Bloomington, IN 47402;
(800) 766-1156. The minimum order for reprints is 25 copies for $10.
It's also available online at: www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kpol99 09.htm

Policymakers' focus on other options is one reason public schools are not improving, Mr Rose contended. "The effort and time we've spent on discussing alternatives could have been spent on making schools better," he said.

When the parents of public school pupils were asked what they would do if given the choice of sending their eldest child to any public, private, or church- related school with tuition paid by the government, most--51 percent--said they would select their public school; 39 percent said they would choose a private or religious school.

The poll, released last month and commissioned annually by the professional education group Phi Delta Kappa, saw an increase in the proportion of Americans who oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense, with 41 percent in favor and 55 percent opposed. Last year, 50 percent opposed the idea. But 51 percent of the parents said they would send their children to any school--public or private--if part or all of the tuition were paid by the government.

Specific questions about vouchers suggested that many respondents are still divided over the issue. Most of the public supported what the poll calls "partial" tuition vouchers, with 52 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed, while the support for vouchers paying "all" tuition was split 47 percent to 48 percent, respectively.

Feeling Safe

On the question of safety, the respondents believe that schools are generally safe, and that schools in their own communities are even more secure. Twenty-four percent of the respondents said their local schools were "very safe and orderly," while 62 percent said their schools were "somewhat safe and orderly."

"This was a surprise in the wake of Columbine," said Mr. Rose, referring to the shootings this past spring at the Colorado high school, which claimed 15 lives.

"Most people feel such incidents are more likely to happen outside of their community," he said. "But, on the other hand, we know what can happen."

Lack of discipline is the biggest problem facing local public schools, according to 18 percent of those surveyed. Eleven percent cited fighting, gangs, and violence as the main problem, and 9 percent said lack of financial support. Those same issues have dominated all recent polls.

The poll also explored public preferences for attracting and retaining good teachers. Most of the respondents favored increasing pay for teachers who demonstrate high performance, followed by giving loans or scholarships to prospective teachers and offering college- financing and professional-development opportunities.

Traditionally, the poll has asked those interviewed to assign grades to their local public schools.

The latest results were consistent with those in previous polls. A significant plurality, 49 percent, assigned the schools in their own communities a grade of A or B. In contrast, only 24 percent gave public schools in general an A or B, with 46 percent assigning a C.

The poll was based on telephone interviews of 1,103 randomly selected adults, and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Vol. 19, Issue 1, Page 12

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