Public Says Schools Not Improving

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Despite the emphasis on education reform over the last five years, the public reports sensing little overall improvement in public schools, according to the results of the 1987 Gallup Poll on education.

Only 25 percent of those polled said the public schools have improved over the past five years, 22 percent said the schools have gotten worse, and 36 percent said the schools have stayed the same. Public-school parents, however, were more positive than either private-school parents or those without children in public schools, with one-third saying the schools have improved.

The adults polled were also asked this year about current policy issues linked to the Reagan Administration's education agenda. According to the Gallup findings, the public favors raising standards for academic achievement and increasing high-school graduation requirements, but is ambivalent about reduced federal involvement in education and the idea of vouchers.

The 19th annual Gallup poll of "The Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools" sponsored by Phi Delta Kappa, the professional education fraternity, was conducted last April. The 1,571 persons sampled were adults age 18 or older and were interviewed in their homes.

Satisfaction Gap

Public-school parents were also more positive than others when asked to grade their local public schools. Fifty-six percent gave their public schools a grade of A or B, while only 43 percent of all respondents would assign such grades. Seventy-three percent of all those interviewed gave the local schools a grade of C or better--up 4 percent from 1986.

But one of the authors of the report, David L. Clark, former dean of Indiana University's school of education, noted a gap in satisfaction levels between the general public and "downscale" respondents. He defined "downscale" as nonwhite, low-income, young, inner-city residents with lower education levels.

Nearly 20 percent of the respondents in those categories said they would give local public schools a D or failing grade, compared with 13 percent of the overall group polled. Mr. Clark said the difference was troublesome because the segment of society that is most dissatisfied with the schools is also its fastest-growing population group.

Federal Involvement Favored

Respondents were about equally divided over whether the U.S. Education Department should be dismantled, with 39 percent in favor and 37 percent against. Nearly one-fourth said they "didn't know" whether or not a separate agency was unnecessary. But when asked about specific tasks the Education Department might undertake in support of education in America, the majority favored some specific federal responsibilities.

Fully 84 percent of those polled said the government should require states and local school districts to meet minimum standards. And 70 percent or more said they supported federal involvement in: funding educational programs aimed at social problems, collecting and reporting4education statistics, funding research and development, and providing financing for fellowships and scholarships.

Some 70 percent also said they thought parents should have the right to choose which local schools their children attend. Respondents with children in public schools were even more supportive of public-school choice, with 76 percent favoring it.

Among both public-school and private-school parents, 49 percent favored a voucher-payment system that would allow parents to choose from both public and private schools in the community, with 15 percent uncertain about the idea. That level of support has remained constant since the 1981 poll, according to the Gallup organization.

At the same time, 44 percent of public-school parents and 49 percent of private-school parents said such a voucher system would hurt local public schools.

Ethics Education

This year's poll suggests that the public generally favors character8education, which has been high on the agenda of Secretary of Education William J. Bennett. Forty-three percent said courses on values and ethical behavior should be taught in the public schools; 36 percent believed that such topics should be handled by the parents and churches, and 13 percent said ethics education is a joint responsibility of the schools, parents, and churches.

By substantial margins, all categories of those polled--without children in the public schools and public- and private-school parents--agreed that parents should have "the most to say" about the content of such courses. Other influences cited in order of preference were local school boards, teachers, administrators, state government, and the federal government.

More than two-thirds of the respondents said they favored raising academic standards, increasing graduation requirements, placing more emphasis on the basics, and requiring teachers to have a liberal-arts degree with a subject-area major before entering a teacher-training program.

Vol. 07, Issue 01

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