In Survey, U.S. Adults Rank Academics Below Health Information, Work Skills

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Most state standards require students to learn a heavy dose of academics, but that may not be what Americans value most, a survey suggests.

The more than 2,500 adults surveyed ranked selections from state and national standards in health information and work-related skills higher than those from history, language arts, mathematics, and other subjects.

The Gallup Organization conducted the study for the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory, a nonprofit research group based in Aurora, Colo. In questionnaires mailed last year, respondents were asked to rate subsets of more than 250 standards as "definitely," "probably," "probably not," or "definitely not" important for students to know before high school graduation.

More than seven in 10 rated health information as "definitely" important, and more than six in 10 gave a strong nod to skills related to work, such as the ability to work effectively in an organization. Those were followed by standards in the language arts, technology, and mathematics. Standards in world history, the fine arts, and foreign languages received the lowest ratings.

The standards were culled from MCREL's earlier analysis of 116 national and state standards documents. The margin of error in the survey was 5 percentage points.

Robert Marzano, a MCREL researcher and the lead author of the study, said he was surprised by Americans' relatively low emphasis on the liberal arts. "But I have four kids," he added, "and when I think about what I want them to know, I'll give on their knowledge of Egypt, but I really do want them to have skills that make them work well with others and think on their feet."

Many of the standards documents are simply too detailed for students to learn all the material they contain in the time available, he argued.

The study, "What Americans Believe Students Should Know," found that, among other priorities, adults want students to understand the impact of substance use and abuse, the relationships between families and individual health, and disease prevention and control. They also gave top ratings to such traits as reliability and a basic work ethic.

Follow-up Planned

Mr. Marzano cautioned that the survey did not ask people to select which of the 250 standards they'd actually keep, given limited instructional time. "I think had they looked at it that way, they would certainly have included some foreign languages, some of the arts," he said. "But I bet you would still have found some of the same trends continued."

MCREL plans a follow-up survey this year to determine what American employers believe students need to master by the time they graduate from high school.

The survey questionnaire is included in the full online report at

Vol. 18, Issue 23, Page 5

Published in Print: February 17, 1999, as In Survey, U.S. Adults Rank Academics Below Health Information, Work Skills
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