Gallup Poll Finds Public Support For Vouchers Has Slid Since '83

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Public opinion on several key education issues--including vouchers, sex education, and the role of nonpublic schools--has shifted in the last few years, according to the results of the 1985 Gallup Poll on education.

While support for nonpublic schools has risen since 1981, for example, the concept of voucher payments for education is less favored by the public than it was in 1983. In addition, approval of sex-education courses for public-school students has increased since 1981, with more than half of this year's respondents favoring sex education in elementary schools, and three-fourths favoring such instruction in secondary schools.

The "17th Annual Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitude Toward the Public Schools" was sponsored by Phi Delta Kappa, the professional education fraternity, and was conducted by the Gallup organization in May of this year. The 1,528 persons sampled were adults age 18 or older.

The percentage of respondents applauding the increase in the number of private and church-related schools as "good for the nation" has risen since 1981, the last time the question was asked on the survey.

This year, 55 percent favor the increase, while 27 percent believe it is a "bad thing" for the country. In 1981, 49 percent approved of the increase in nonpublic schools, while 30 percent disapproved of it. Twenty-one percent had no opinion in 1981; in 1985, 18 percent had no opinion.

Although approval of the existence of nonpublic schools has increased, support for a voucher system has declined in the last two years, the poll shows.

In many voucher systems that have been proposed, the government would allocate a certain sum of money for all or part of a child's education and would allow parents to use the money to send their children to the public or private school of their choice. Voucher plans being tried in Colorado and Minnesota offer parents a choice of public schools only.

In 1983, 51 percent of those polled by Gallup favored a voucher system, with 38 percent opposed and 11 percent offering no opinion.

In 1985, however, the number of those favoring a voucher system slipped to 45 percent of the total, while the proportion opposing the idea increased to 40 percent, and those with no opinion increased to 15 percent.

The 1985 survey showed increased support for sex education in both the elementary and secondary grades since 1981, the last year respondents were queried on the issue.

Asked whether sex education should be included in the instructional programs of public high schools, 75 percent of those questioned in 1985 responded favorably, while 19 percent opposed such a program.

In 1981, 70 percent were in favor of sex education at the high-school level, while 22 percent were opposed.

With regard to sex education in public elementary schools, the respondents were more evenly divided in both polls.

Those who favored such a program, however, increased from 45 percent in 1981 to 52 percent in 1985, while those opposed to sex education at the elementary level dropped from 48 percent in 1981 to 43 percent in 1985.

Apart from these attitude6changes, however, public opinion about local public schools and teachers, and about public schools nationwide, has changed little since last year, the poll suggests.

Asked to grade the public schools in their communities, 43 percent of those surveyed gave the schools an A or a B--a 1 percent increase over the 1984 level.

The 1984 figure of 42 percent, however, had marked a dramatic increase over 1983, when 31 percent gave their local public schools an A or a B.

Asked to grade "public schools in the nation as a whole," 27 percent of those questioned this year gave them a grade of A or B, compared with 25 percent last year and 19 percent in 1983.

Public attitudes toward teachers showed no statistically significant change. In 1985, 49 percent of those polled gave teachers in the local public schools an A or B grade, while in the 1984 survey, 50 percent of the respondents gave local teachers an A or a B.

Feelings about the problems schools face are among the most constant over time, the survey has found. As in all polls but one since 1969, ''lack of discipline" was cited as the "biggest problem" facing the public schools in 1985. This year, 25 percent of respondents chose lack of discipline, with the "use of drugs" cited next by 18 percent.

Seventy-eight percent of all those questioned believe that school authorities should be allowed to open students' lockers and examine personal property if they suspect the concealment of drugs, liquor, or stolen goods, while 18 percent oppose such searches.

Of the public-school parents queried on this point, 84 percent favored such authority for school officials, with 15 percent opposing it.

Complete results of the poll will be published in the September 1985 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.

Vol. 04, Issue 42

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