Gallup Reports Public Favors Stronger Academic Requirements, Grades Parents Lower Than Teachers

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A new public-opinion survey by one of the nation's leading pollsters confirms what educators have been saying for years: schools do not have enough time to do everything the public demands of them.

George Gallup's Thirteenth Annual Survey of the Public's Attitudes toward the Public Schools, released yesterday, reveals that while a cross-section of the nation's adults favors fairly narrow, basic academic requirements for high school students, the public also wants high schools to teach students how to drive, how to become good parents, and how to avoid drug abuse.

"When the people are consulted about the courses they think should be required in high schools, the instruction in special areas they think are important, and educational objectives they believe should be given greater attention, the present school day and year are far too short to accommodate their requirements," Mr. Gallup writes.

Mr. Gallup's Public Opinion Surveys, Inc., conducted interviews last May with 1,519 adults selected to reflect the nation's demographic characteristics with regard to sex, age, income, educational level, race, region, and type of community.

In a break with the tradition of the Gallup series, there will be two thirteenth annual education surveys this year. One was jointly sponsored by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (N.A.S.S.P.), and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (N.A.E.S.P.). It will be published in the September issue of Principal, the N.A.E.S.P. magazine and in a special N.A.S.S.P. report. The other is to be published in the Phi Delta Kappan next month.

As in past years, the interviewers asked respondents questions on problems the schools face, how well the schools are doing their job, and what changes should be made.

"It is useful ... to obtain the public's views since educational needs do change as new problems and new situations arise that concern the community and the nation," Mr. Gallup writes. ''And at the very least, the views of the people should enable educators to set priorities. "

The list of priorities is indeed crowded, the survey found.

The great majority of respondents in the poll believed that "economic benefits are the chief goal of education," but nearly six in ten also named matters related to personal development when asked about the goals of education. Younger and college-educated respondents--considered "trend-setters" by Mr. Gallup--cited personal development goals much more frequently than did other groups.

When it came to setting requirements for students, however, survey respondents placed themselves squarely in the "back-to-basics" camp. '

Seven respondents in ten--up from 50 percent in 1958 and from 65 percent in 1976--believe all students should have to pass a standardized national examination in order to get a high school diploma. Strong endorsement of this idea cut across all demographic groups. And for the first time, the college-educated were as likely as other groups to favor such an examination.

In general, the public appears to believe that high schools prepare students better for college than for work. And a plurality said they thought the United States was losing its technological lead to Japan and Germany. These practical considerations may be reflected in curriculum preferences expressed by those surveyed.

Respondents were asked to rank 11 high-school subjects in order of their importance for both college-bound and non-college-bound students. Mathematics, English, business, history and U.S. government, and science ranked among the top six subjects on each list. Art and music were at the bottom in both cases.

Respondents would require two years of a foreign language for college-bound students, and four years of industrial arts and homemaking for those who do not plan to continue their education.

The public, according to the poll, also would require more years of certain academic subjects than do most states: four years of science and history and U.S. government for the college-bound; four years of business for students who do not plan to go to college; and four years of English and mathematics for all high school students.

In response to another question, a majority of respondents-and a slightly higher proportion than in 1979--said they would rather see high schools offer fewer, more basic courses than a wide variety of courses. Young people, residents of large cities, parents of private-school students, and blacks were more likely than other groups to favor a broad variety of courses.

Majorities of the groups surveyed also think schools should require courses in drug abuse, alcohol abuse, driver education, and parent training. Large minorities also favored required courses in health, physical education, and computer training.

Other highlights of the survey:

  • Approval ratings. The public schools received about the same grades as they have each year since Mr. Gallup's 1976 poll. Thirty-six percent gave the schools an A or B, 34 percent a C, 20 percent a D or F, and 10 percent did not know.

    The consistency of the marks over the past five years led Mr. Gallup to conclude that the much-publicized decline of public confidence in the schools has halted. But, he cautioned, "evidence of an upturn is still lacking."

    Parents with children now in public schools have a markedly higher opinion of the schools than do other adults, while young adults aged 18 to 29 were the most critical.

    Principals and administrators fared about the same, on the whole, as did the schools.

  • Parents. For the first time ever this year, the Gallup Poll asked respondents to rate how well parents are rearing their children. The consensus: parents are not doing their jobs as well as schools are doing theirs. Parents received an A or B from 30 percent of the respondents, a C from 36 percent, and a D or F from 27 percent. (The other 8 percent didn't know).

    Non-whites were most critical of parents, while public-school parents, as a group, were slightly less critical of parents than other groups.

  • Major problems. Discipline, as it has for many years, headed the public's list of the biggest problems facing public schools. Drug use was cited next most frequently, with poor curriculum and low standards third, following last year's pattern.

    A new school problem found its way onto the list this year, receiving enough mentions to put it in 10th place out of 25 items: students' "lack of respect for other students and teachers."

  • Vouchers. For the first time since the Gallup Poll first posed the question in 1970, more respondents this year favored than opposed the idea of education vouchers redeemable at the public or private school of the family's choice. Non-whites, young adults, and big-city residents were the groups most heavily in favor of vouchers, with public-school parents split almost evenly on the issue.
  • Teachers. The public, according to the survey, believes teachers should not be allowed to strike, and disapproves, by a 2-to-1 margin, of tenure. Respondents were ambivalent about the effect of teachers' unions on the quality of education: 18 percent said unionization has helped quality, 38 percent said it has hurt, and 45 percent either had no opinion or believed unions had not affected quality at all.

    Those surveyed, however, were in substantial agreement about teachers' qualifications. Eighty-four percent believed teachers should have to pass state board examinations in their fields, in addition to meeting college requirements for certification, before being hired.

  • Equal opportunity. Eight in ten respondents overall believed all racial groups in their community had equal educational opportunity. Six in ten black respondents said they believed that.
  • Smoking. Students should not be allowed to smoke anywhere on school grounds, according to 71 percent of the adults surveyed. And neither should the school staff, 60 percent said.
  • Volunteers. A small majority of those surveyed endorsed reducing school costs by enlisting volunteers to direct some extracurricular activities such as sports, band, and plays. The strongest support for this idea came from private-school parents and adults with no children in school. Public-school parents, however, were almost evenly split on the issue.
  • Regional differences. On most questions, regional differences were slight where they existed at all. But in some cases, there were wide variations.

    Residents of the nation's northeastern quadrant, perhaps reflecting the abundance of private schools in the area, were more supportive of education vouchers than were their counterparts in the South, the Midwest, and the West.

    On other educational questions, if there is a regional group that stands out, it usually is Westerners. They were most critical of the public schools and their administrators, most adamantly opposed to teacher tenure and smoking on school grounds, most likely to prefer a limited, basic high-school curriculum to a wide array of course offerings, and nearly as enthusiastic about vouchers as were Easterners.

Vol. 01, Issue 00, Pages 1, 14

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