Public Says Better Teachers Are Key to Improved Education

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Focus on basic curriculum also commonly mentioned

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans most commonly mention having higher-quality, better-educated, and more-involved teachers as the best way to improve kindergarten through grade 12 education in the United States. The next-most-common public prescription is to focus on a basic curriculum of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Improved funding, better teacher pay, and smaller class sizes also receive a significant number of mentions.

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These findings are based on the results of an open-ended question in Gallup's annual Work and Education poll, conducted Aug. 6-9 of this year.

Notably, there is little mention of recent or ongoing federal government initiatives toward education, including the No Child Left Behind Act passed during the Bush administration. Most of the specific mentions of No Child Left Behind are negative in tone, and there are relatively few mentions (positive or negative) of its core elements, such as student testing. Two other common policy proposals -- school vouchers and longer school years (including year-round schooling) -- are barely mentioned. Thus, it appears Americans are focused on improving education at the local level rather than through federal government policy.

The views of parents with school-aged children are largely similar to those who do not have children in grades K-12, though there are some slight differences. Parents are a little more likely than non-parents to cite smaller class size and more parental involvement as keys to improving education.

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In general, members of most political or demographic subgroups differ little in their ideas on how to improve education. However, self-identified political liberals (11%) are somewhat more likely than moderates (6%) or conservatives (4%) to advocate greater funding of schools, and somewhat less likely to suggest a greater focus on basic curriculum (5% of liberals say this, along with 11% of conservatives and 12% of moderates).

Americans' views on how to improve grade-school and high-school education have not changed much in the last half-decade, either. Gallup asked the same question in 2004, and teacher quality also topped the list at that time. The most significant change in the last five years is a decrease in the percentage of Americans who mention smaller class size, which tied with a focus on basic curriculum as the second-most-common response in 2004.

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Bottom Line

As Gallup reported this week, less than half of Americans are satisfied with the quality of K-12 education in the United States. This satisfaction level has not changed much in recent years, nor have Americans' prescriptions for improving U.S. schools. The most common recommendation from average Americans -- most of whose children have themselves been educated in the U.S. system -- is for higher-quality teachers, those who are better educated, more involved, and more caring. More broadly, Americans seem to see many more solutions for improving education at the classroom level or local level rather than through new federal government initiatives.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 6-9, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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