Drugs Ranked as Schools’ Top Problem

By Robert Rothman — September 10, 1986 2 min read

Americans rank drug use as the most important problem facing the public schools, knocking inadequate discipline from the No.1 spot for the first time in 15 years, according to results of the annual Gallup Poll on education.

named “use of drugs” as their top concern about the schools in their communities, while 24 percent cited “lack of discipline.” In 16 of the 17 previous polls, concern about the lack of discipline ranked first; in 1971, concern about funding was No. 1.

By substantial margins, the public supports the use of a wide range of anti-drug measures in the schools, the survey found. For example, 78 percent of the respondents favored permitting the expulsion of students caught using drugs on school grounds, and 67 percent said school authorities should be allowed to search students’ lockers and personal property for drugs.

But respondents were more narrowly divided on the use of urinalysis to test students for drug use. Forty-nine percent favored such testing, while 44 percent were opposed.

The “18th Annual Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools"-sponsored by Phi Delta Kappa, the national education fraternity-was based on an April sampling of 1,552 people aged 18 or older.

Schools, Teachers Graded

On broader issues, Americans have maintained the generally favorable attitude toward the public schools shown in previous Gallup surveys.

In the 1986 poll, 28 percent of those responding gave the nation’s public schools a grade of A or B; that was the highest proportion awarding those grades since Gallup began asking the question in 1981.

Local schools received virtually the same high marks this year that they earned the past two years, thus maintaining the substantial improvement in ratings that was recorded in 1984. Forty-one percent of those surveyed this year gave their local schools an A or B.

Likewise, teachers received roughly the same high marks they received last year. Almost half of those surveyed-48 percent--.£aid the nation’s teachers deserve a grade of A or B.

The vast majority of respondents-- 85 percent--said teachers should be required periodically to pass competency tests in their subject areas.

As in the past 15 years, most respondents said they would vote against a tax increase to support public schools. But while 52 percent opposed a general increase in taxes, approximately 75 percent said they would favor raising money for school-improvement measures by increasing state alcoholic-beverage or cigarette taxes or by increasing the proportion of funds from state lotteries earmarked for schools.

Vouchers, Federal Role

On issues relating to parental choice in school selection and the federal role in education:

  • About 46 percent of those surveyed favored a voucher system for education.
  • Nearly two-thirds opposed the use of tax money to help private schools.
  • Fifty percent said they opposed the use of tax money to help church-related schools.
  • By about a 2-to-1 margin, the respondents said the federal government should have less influence in determining the educational program of local schools.
  • A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 1986 edition of Education Week as Drugs Ranked as Schools’ Top Problem