Parents Ill-Informed About Standards, Poll Finds

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Americans need to know more about academic standards, but many say they aren't adequately informed by their schools, a poll released last week shows.

The national poll, conducted by the Washington-based Council for Basic Education, found that 91 percent of the adults surveyed believe parents should be familiar with standards, but that only 53 percent said their local schools provide parents with enough information about what their children are expected to know.

"Standards can be very intimidating for parents," said Christopher T. Cross, the president of the CBE, whose mission is to promote high academic achievement. Some schools don't make questions about standards easy to be answered, he said.

Of those surveyed, 73 percent agreed strongly that schools across the country should have similar, rigorous academic standards. The strongest supporters of such a concept were black respondents and upper-income earners.

For More Information:
"Standards for Excellence in Education" materials, which include a 286-page standards book, a searchable CD-ROM, and pamphlets for parents, teachers, principals, and policymakers, are available as a kit and individually for prices ranging from $8 to $180, from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development at (800) 933-2723.

"They know their kids haven't been getting the best deal out of schools. Schools haven't been required to meet high standards," Mr. Cross said. "These parents are saying they're not going to stand for second best."

Most respondents said they liked the idea of schools' following the recommendations of national experts. And more than half said teachers should know and use model national standards. Teachers are believed to have the most influence over local academic standards, the survey concluded.

Many policymakers, however, have been reluctant to promote national standards for fear that they will evolve into a national curriculum.

Distilling the Standards

A large proportion of respondents--77 percent--said standards in schools are not high enough; only 8 percent believe current standards to be too low. The support for higher standards is strongest among white, suburban, middle- to upper-income individuals with at least some college education--those who have benefited most from education, according to the pollsters. Three-fourths of the respondents said higher standards are very important for students to succeed in college or in a job.

In an effort to increase the understanding of content standards, the council released a set of "Standards for Excellence in Education," or SEE, in conjunction with the poll.

SEE is based on the model national standards for most of the core subjects--history, science, the arts, foreign language, and geography--and aims to make them more accessible. It is a condensed version of the original standards that includes guides for parents, teachers, and principals, as well as a searchable CD-ROM.

"It is a distillation of national standards," Mr. Cross said. "It is also a tool for parents to gointo schools and say, 'Here's what represents good standards.'"

Because the national standards in English have been roundly criticized and those in math are in the midst of being updated, the CBE incorporated what it considers to be exceptional state standards in those two subjects.

According to the survey, most respondents said it would be useful for parents to know what national experts have said students should know in core subjects. By using model national standards, parents would be better positioned to hold local schools accountable, the survey suggests. Two-thirds of the respondents said it would be easier to judge a school's performance if they knew more about what its expectations of students were.

"Some parents feel defenseless when it comes to standards," said Mr. Cross, who said SEE would help "level the playing field."

The poll was conducted in August and September and was compiled from 1,000 telephone interviews among registered voters. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Vol. 18, Issue 9, Page 6

Published in Print: October 28, 1998, as Parents Ill-Informed About Standards, Poll Finds
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Web Resources
  • The Council for Basic Education offers its own overview of the Academic Standards Experience.
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