Voters See Lack of Accountability Among Public Officials on Education

By Joetta L. Sack — March 12, 2003 3 min read
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Only about one-third of American voters say that public officials are being held accountable for their actions on education, according to a recent national poll.

Hard Times: Tough Choices

The poll, sponsored by the Public Education Network and Education Week, found that 57 percent of voters surveyed reported that they did not think officeholders were being held accountable for their education records. Only 34 percent agreed that public officials are being held accountable. The remaining 9 percent said they didn’t know.

The survey report, “Demanding Quality Public Education in Tough Economic Times,” is available from the Public Education Network. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The survey, released last month, reported that a large majority of voters want more funding for education, and support accountability for those funds. A total of 1,050 registered voters were surveyed by telephone in January for the poll, which had a margin of error of about 3.5 percentage points. (“Aid to Schools Gets Support in Voter Poll,” Feb. 26, 2003.)

Celinda C. Lake, a prominent Democratic pollster and the president of Lake, Snell, Perry, and Associates Inc., the Washington-based firm that conducted the survey, said voters were concerned that the people they elect be accountable for education policies and spending.

Wendy D. Puriefoy, the president of PEN, which is a national coalition that advocates for high-quality public education in low-income areas, seconded that view.

“The public does not want to be taken for granted,” she said. “They expect their officials to be knowledgeable about what is a major issue for the country.”

Poll respondents identified strong leadership by public officials as the second most important factor, after high levels of parental involvement, in ensuring that a community has strong public schools.

When asked to rank on a scale of zero to 10 the importance of various factors in achieving that goal, 81 percent of respondents gave an 8, 9, or 10 to “strong leadership from officeholders committed to taking action to improve public schools.”

On a question focused on what mayors or county supervisors can do to make low-performing schools succeed, 56 percent of respondents gave a 10 to “know about education issues.” Forty-eight percent gave that top rating to “fight for more education funds in the state legislature and Congress,” while 42 percent gave a 10 to “hold schools accountable for quality performance.”

Greater Effort Sought

Seventy-one percent of those polled thought that their state legislators “should play a greater role in advocating for quality public education,” while 62 percent wanted their mayors or county supervisors to do that.

More than 80 percent of the voters said they would be more likely to re- elect a public official who protects the education budget from cuts, “fights for their share” of federal funds for education, supports getting tough on failing schools, votes to pay for reducing class size, or supports providing more early-childhood programs.

In addition, 70 percent or more of voters said they would be more likely to vote to re-elect an official who “votes to fund reducing school size,” or who supports “investing more in teachers, including higher pay,” putting more money into low-performing schools, or providing more before- and after-school programs.

Sixty-nine percent said they would back a candidate who “requires school districts to tighten their belts,” while 68 percent said candidates who pushed for higher pay for teachers who work in low-performing schools would be more likely to get their votes.

Roughly half the voters said they would be more likely to re-elect a candidate who “raises taxes to increase education funding,” supports high- stakes testing, or “supports vouchers for education.” Forty-five percent said they would be more inclined to vote for one who “supports using tax money to go toward vouchers for private schools.”


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