Public Favors Longer School Year, Gallup Poll Shows

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The American public strongly favors national achievement standards and testing, public-school choice, and merit pay for excellent teachers, and an unprecedented number back lengthening the school year, according to the latest Gallup Poll on education.

Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said in a statement that this year's edition of the poll demonstrates "overwhelming" support for the Bush Administration's America 2000 education strategy, which includes all those elements.

But the 23rd annual poll, which concentrated on proposals contained in the Bush plan, yielded mixed results on the issue of school choice, which President Bush and Mr. Alexander have called the cornerstone of their program.

Sixty-two percent of respondents favored allowing parents to choose among the public schools in their communities, although 68 percent of public-school parents polled said they would not pick different public schools for their children if given the chance.

Exactly half of those polled said they would support a voucher plan under which "the government allots a certain amount of money for each child's education" and parents "can then send the child to any public, parochial, or private school"; 39 percent were opposed. Blacks and inner-city residents were the most supportive of such vouchers.

The 50 percent support for a voucher program represents a 6-percentage-point increase in backing for the idea since 1987, when the question was last asked; it nearly matches the highest support level for vouchers, 51 percent, posted shortly after the release of A Nation at Risk in 1983.

But when asked if they would favor "allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense," 68 percent said no, and only 26 percent voiced support. Of those who answered positively, 63 percent said participating private schools should be accountable to "public-school authorities."

The Administration proposes a program of rewards for school districts that adopt choice plans including private schools. But it has not specified which types of nonpublic schools would have to be included or what kind of public oversight they would have to accept.

National Tests and Standards

America 2000's proposals for a national testing system and national achievement standards were more enthusiastically supported in the poll, which was conducted by the Gallup Organization in conjunction with the professional education fraternity Phi Delta Kappa.

Seventy-seven percent of those polled favored requiring the public schools in their communities to use "standardized national tests," and 81 percent favored requiring them to "conform to national achievement standards and goals."

A smaller but still substantial proportion, 69 percent, favored requiring the schools to use a national curriculum.

About two-thirds of respondents supported the publication of education "report cards" for the nation, states, school districts, and local schools.

Blacks were less enthusiastic about standardized testing than were the respondents as a whole.

The Administration's proposal for differential pay for teachers also fared generally well. Extra pay for teaching "particularly effectively" was favored by 69 percent, while 63 percent supported it for teachers working in "dangerous school environments." However, only 49 percent favored extra pay for teachers serving as mentors for new teachers, with 39 percent opposed; only 39 percent favored Mr. Alexander's proposal to reward teachers of "core subjects."

And, for the first time since the question was asked in 1982, a majority-51 percent--favored extending the school year, while 42 percent opposed the idea. Only 46 percent would favor lengthening the school day by one hour, with 48 percent opposed.

Doubtful About Reaching Goals

In other poll findings:

  • As in the 1990 poll, an overwhelming majority of at least 90 percent rated each of the national education goals adopted by Mr. Bush and the National Governors' Association as a "high" or "very high" priority.
    But respondents remain skeptical about meeting the goals by the year 2000. Those rating that occurrence as "unlikely" or "very unlikely" ranged from 47 percent for the school-readiness goal to 72 percent for the goal of disciplined, drug-flee schools.
  • Only 33 percent supported withholding state and federal funds from schools that fail to show progress toward the goals, while 64 percent favor awarding more funds to successful schools.
  • A whopping 80 percent agreed that "the amount of money allocated to public education" should be the same for all students, regardless of whether they live in wealthy or poor districts." Sixty-two percent would favor court action to equalize per-pupil expenditures in their states.
  • & Drug use, lack of discipline, and lack of financial support were named by the most respondents-22 percent, 20 percent, and 18 percent, respectively--as the biggest problems facing public schools. That finding represents a precipitous drop, from 38 percent last year, in the number mentioning drug use, and an increase of 6 percentage points in those mentioning finances.
  • Fifty-five percent favored tax-supported preschool programs in public schools, while 40 percent opposed the idea. The idea was backed by 70 percent of nonwhite respondents.
  • Fifty-eight percent said students who fail to meet standards for their grade level should be retained, while only 32 percent would favor promoting them anyway.
  • Distrust of school boards and central administrators was evident, with 76 percent favoring more decisionmaking authority for parents and teachers, and 79 percent supporting the creation of school councils of teachers, principals, and parents similar to those formed in Chicago.
  • If faced with a budget crunch, 73 percent would favor reducing the number of administrators in their districts, while only 15 percent would favor reducing the teaching force.
  • As in past Gallup surveys, a large disparity was found between respondents' attitudes toward public schools generally and those in their own communities. While only 21 percent would give the nation's public schools an A or B grade, 42 percent would rank schools in their communities that high, and 73 percent would give that grade to the school their oldest child attends.

Field interviewers for the Gallup Organization posed a total of 80 questions to 1,500 adults for this year's survey.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 1

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Public Favors Longer School Year, Gallup Poll Shows
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