Americans Give Local Public Schools Highest Grades in Eight Years

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Americans gave the public schools higher grades this year than they have in the last eight years, according to the results of the latest Gallup Poll on public education.

Forty-two percent of the 1,515 American adults who participated in the 16th "Annual Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools" gave their local public schools a grade of A or B.

That figure represents the highest rating for local schools since 1976, when 46 percent of those surveyed for the Gallup Poll gave A's and B's. Last year, only 31 percent of those surveyed gave their schools top grades.

Those polled also seemed more willing to support education through taxes.

Forty-one percent said they would vote for higher taxes to support their local schools, compared with 39 percent last year and 30 percent in 1981.

But the adults surveyed this year continued, as those in previous polls, to award public schools at large lower grades overall, with only 2 percent of those surveyed awarding them an A, 23 percent a B, 49 percent a C, and 11 percent a D. The responses represent a greater percentage of respondents awarding higher marks in this category than in previous years.

The poll was sponsored by the professional education fraternity Phi Delta Kappa. It was conducted in May by the late George H. Gallup Sr. and released earlier this month. Mr. Gallup, one of the nation's foremost pollsters, died in late July shortly after completing his analysis of the data.

Educators' Efforts

This year, 68 percent of those polled by the Gallup organization did not have children in the public schools.

The high ratings given the schools reflect the efforts educators have made to inform the public of their work, according to Sarah Van Allen, project director of the report.

This kind of communication is important, Ms. Van Allen noted, because "the further people get away from the schools, the less likely they are to spend money or vote for [higher] taxes" to support school-improvement efforts.

The first time the poll was conducted--in 1969--50 percent of those surveyed did not have children in public schools.

Education Reform

To Jerome G. Kopp, president of Phi Delta Kappa and principal of Downey High School in Modesto, Calif., the poll's findings "reflect the enormous effort of school-board members, state legislators, and education leaders and teachers throughout the country to restore excellence to our schools."

"There is clear evidence that education reform is taking place nationwide," he said.

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, speaking on NBC-tv's "Meet the Press" following the poll's release, warned against overinterpreting the results.

"I think clearly the public schools have not changed that much in one year," Mr. Shanker said. "You can't change that much in an institution of this size."

"What the public sees is very real," he said, noting the legislative initiatives that have been spotlighted in the last year. "But I'm not sure the public is aware of the fact that when you pass a law, it's not like pressing a button. These reforms will take years before there is a real payoff."

Rating Teachers

Teachers fared better this year than they have in past editions of the poll. This year, 50 percent of those surveyed gave public-school teachers an A or B, up from 39 percent in 1981. But only 37 percent of the respondents said teachers' salaries are too low, compared with 41 percent who said they thought salaries were "about right." Seven percent said teachers' salaries are too high and 15 percent had no opinion on the question.

Ratings for administrators and school boards were not as high as those for teachers.

Thirty-four percent of the respondents gave principals and administrators a B rating, 29 percent gave them a C rating, 13 percent an A rat-ing, 8 percent a D rating, and 5 percent a failing grade.

Local school boards were given a grade of B by 32 percent of the people surveyed, were awarded a C by 29 percent, a D by 11 percent, an A by 9 percent, and a failing grade by 6 percent.

National Strength

This year's respondents placed education above industry and the military in importance for America's future strength.

Eighty-two percent of the respondents said that "developing the best educational system in the world" was "very important," compared with 70 percent who ascribed the same importance to "developing the most efficient industrial system in the world," and 45 percent who rated "building the strongest military force in the world" very important.

Sixty-six percent of the respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a Presidential candidate who supported increasing federal funding for education, and 42 percent chose Democratic Presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale as the candidate most likely to improve the quality of public education. Thirty-four percent chose Ronald Reagan, and 24 percent said they had no opinion.

Discipline Problem

Lack of discipline, rated as the most important problem facing public schools in 1983, is again listed at the top of the 1984 survey.

Among parents who now have children in public schools, however, the problem was mentioned less often than last year.

Following lack of discipline, the four top problems identified by those responding to the survey are drug use, poor curriculum and standards, lack of proper financial support, and the difficulty of getting good teachers, according to the responses.

On other education issues, 65 percent of those surveyed said they favored the concept of merit pay for teachers, 65 percent said they supported a standardized national graduation test, and 67 percent said they thought students were not required to work hard enough in school or on homework.

Sixty-nine percent of the respondents said they favored a proposed constitutional amendment allowing prayer in the public schools.

Half of the respondents opposed extending the school year by 30 days for a total of 210 school days, and 52 percent opposed extending the school day by one hour. Forty-six percent said they thought extracurricular activities were important to students' education, 31 percent said they were "very important," and 22 percent said they were either "not too important" or "not at all important."

And 89 percent of those surveyed said they thought people who want to become teachers should, in addition to meeting college certification requirements, be required to pass a state-board examination to prove their knowledge in the subjects they will teach before they are hired.

Vol. 03, Issue 39

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