Poll Finds Rise in Unfavorable Views of NCLB

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More Americans say they are knowledgeable about the No Child Left Behind Act than just last year, but familiarity appears to breed dislike, according to a poll set for release this week by Phi Delta Kappa International and the Gallup Organization.

In addition, Americans remain concerned that the federal education law’s focus on testing students for their proficiency in reading and mathematics is leading to a narrowing of the curriculum, at the expense of subjects such as social studies, science, and the arts, the survey found. That finding echoes the previous PDK/Gallup polls beginning in 2003.

In the latest poll, 54 percent of respondents said they knew a “great deal” or a “fair amount” about the 5½-year-old law, up from the 45 percent who gave those responses last year. Forty-six percent said they knew “very little” or “nothing at all” about it, compared with 55 percent who gave those responses in 2006.

Parents of public school students showed even bigger shifts. Public school parents professing knowledge about the NCLB law rose to 65 percent of those parents polled this year, from 49 percent last year. Conversely, the share of such parents who said they knew very little or nothing about the law dropped to 35 percent, from 50 percent last year.

Getting More Familiar

For the first time since the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll started asking the question in 2003, a majority of respondents say they know a great deal or a fair amount about the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

How much, if anything, would you say you know about the No Child Left Behind Act — the federal education bill that was passed by Congress in 2001?

Along with that greater familiarity with the law, which is currently up for reauthorization in Congress, Americans are viewing it less favorably, the poll found.

Forty percent of the respondents said they had a “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” opinion of the law, up from 31 percent holding those views in 2006.

On the flip side, 31 percent of respondents reported a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of the law, 1 percentage point below the results last year. The answer “don’t know enough to say” was given by 29 percent of respondents this year, down from 37 percent last year.

‘Significant Questions’

The diverging attitudes suggest that the politicians who are weighing the merits of the law may be facing a national audience that is both more aware and more polarized on the subject than in previous years.

From what you know or have heard about the No Child Left Behind Act, do you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable opinion of the act — or don't you know enough about it to say?

“Clearly the public has significant questions [about NCLB],” said William J. Bushaw, the executive director of Phi Delta Kappa, a professional organization for educators that is based in Bloomington, Ind. “Now we have an opportunity in the reauthorization to address the issues that the public has raised.”

Another survey, released in June by the Educational Testing Service, found that when respondents were told about major components of the law, including its focus on standards and accountability and its support for “highly qualified” teachers, 56 percent said they viewed the law favorably, while 37 percent opposed it. ("To Know NCLB Is to Like It, ETS Poll Finds," June 20, 2007.)

In the PDK/Gallup poll, a strong majority of respondents, or 82 percent, favored judging schools’ performance based on their students’ improvement on state tests throughout the school year, rather than on the percentage of students who pass the state tests, which is now the keystone of the NCLB accountability requirements for schools.

Most respondents also said the law’s emphasis on English and math had reduced the time spent in public schools on other subjects, and nearly all who held that view were “very or somewhat concerned” about that trend.

In the PDK/Gallup survey, 37 percent of the people who considered themselves knowledgeable about the law said it was hurting local public schools; 34 percent said the law made no difference; and 28 percent said it was helping local public schools.

Responding to the same question, the entire national sample of adults was about evenly divided on whether the law was helping or hurting local public schools; the largest bloc, 41 percent, said the law was making no difference.

The PDK/Gallup poll, the 39th annual poll by the two organizations, was slated for release Aug. 28.

The poll was conducted by telephone interviews of 1,005 adults age 18 or older chosen randomly from a national sample. Findings based on the overall pool have a 95 percent confidence level of having a maximum error of 3 percentage points, or in the case of just the public school parents, of having a maximum error of 5 percentage points, according to the report.

Vol. 27, Issue 01, Pages 10-11

Published in Print: August 29, 2007, as Poll Finds Rise in Unfavorable Views of NCLB
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