Standards Bearers

June 22, 2005 1 min read

NCLB may not be universally winning the hearts and minds of educators, but it’s made substantial gains in how the public views it, according to a survey released this week.

Public awareness of the legislation has virtually doubled since 2001, with 61 percent of the general public saying they’ve now heard a “great deal” or a “fair amount” about NCLB, according to an annual survey on education reform sponsored by the Educational Testing Service released on June 22. What’s more, 45 percent of those surveyed said they held a favorable opinion of the legislation.

Small wonder why: According to the ETS survey, for which Republican and Democratic pollsters worked together to query 2,250 adults, only 9 percent of the general public believes that high schools “set high academic expectations for students.” On average, the public gives the nation’s schools a C average, though parents polled gave their children’s own schools grades averaging to a B, the survey said. And for that reason, it seems, the public is supportive of change in many forms: Some 48 percent of those polled say schools need either “major changes” or a “complete overhaul.”

More on the Web

“Ready for the Real World? Americans Speak on High School Reform” is available from ETS.

“The States of NCLB,” from the October issue of Teacher Magazine, examines legislative challenges to the NCLB.

The U.S. Department of Education offers a “Teachers Toolkit” on NCLB.

In January, the nation’s governors, along with business and education leaders, convened a national summit on high school reform.

In a January report, researchers at Ball State University found that states requiring high school graduation exams have lower college-entrance-exam scores.

“Crises or Possibility? Conversations About the American High School,” a report by the National High School Alliance, looks at attempts to make secondary schools more responsive to students’ needs.

Beyond such vague terms, the survey found wide public support for a variety of NCLB-like propositions, including ensuring that teachers are experts in the subjects they teach (74 percent) and requiring students to pass statewide graduation tests (80 percent). A majority support a “rigorous course of study” for all students, including computer science, four years of English, three years of history/civics and science, and two years of a foreign language, and 55 percent say all schools, students, and teachers should be held to the same performance standards regardless of students’ backgrounds.

“Americans believe in standards and accountability,” says ETS president and CEO Kurt Landgraf, whose organization, it goes without saying, put the word “standard” into standardized testing. “And they want reform efforts expanded to address pressing quality issues with our nation’s high schools.”

Not surprisingly, teachers were far less likely to favor the one-size-fits-all approach to performance standards, 26 percent to the public’s 55 percent. And only one-quarter of high school teachers hold favorable opinions about NCLB, a disconnect with public opinion that Republican pollster David Winston called “worrisome.”

—Mark Toner

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