Education Reform: The Public's Opinion

Compiled by the Gallup Poll Editors

I. How important is education as a priority for the federal government?

The public ranks education as one of the most important priorities for the new George W. Bush administration. Indeed, Gallup polls conducted this past election year showed that education was consistently at the top of lists of issues the voters wanted discussed. Education is also near the top of lists of the most important problems facing the country today.

In a recent Gallup poll, 50% of Americans said that education should be a "top priority" for the Bush administration, higher than any other issue tested. In December 2000, an open-ended question asked Americans to name, off the top of their heads, the top priorities for Bush. Eight percent mentioned education, putting it second only behind "uniting the country," which was highly top-of-mind at the time of the survey.

When Gallup most recently asked Americans about the most important problem facing the country, 12% said education, essentially tying it with "ethics, morals, and religious and family decline" at the top of the list of specific issues mentioned.

How important is it that the Bush administration does each of the following? Is it a top priority, high priority, low priority, or not a priority at all? [RANDOM ORDER]

 

 

Top
priority

High
priority

Top/high
priority

       
 

%

%

%

Improving education

50

44

94

Keeping America prosperous

43

48

91

Ensuring the long-term strength of the Social Security system

46

43

89

Helping senior citizens pay for prescription drugs

42

46

88

Keeping the federal budget balanced

40

48

88

Ensuring the long-term strength of the Medicare system

40

48

88

Improving the healthcare system

43

44

87

Providing military security for the country

39

46

85

Improving conditions for minorities and the poor

30

50

80

Reducing the use of illegal drugs in America

36

42

78

Improving the quality of the environment

30

48

78

Improving race relations

28

47

75

Cutting federal income taxes

26

39

65

Improving the way political campaigns are financed

25

35

60



 

In your opinion, what should be the top priority for the Bush administration in its first 100 days? [Open-ended]

 

 

2000 Dec 15-17

   
 

%

Uniting the country

13

Education

8

Healthcare

7

Taxes/tax reduction

6

The economy

6

Social Security

5

Working with Democrats/bipartisanship

4

Election process reform

4

Getting the government running

4

Establishing himself as president

3

Foreign policy

3

Medicare

3

The poor/homelessness

3

Defense/the military

2

Choosing a cabinet

2

Minority issues/showing he is for all people

2

Restoring confidence in the government

1

Campaign finance reform

1

Fulfilling campaign promises

1

The budget/deficit

1

Crime

1

Abortion

1

Senior citizen issues

1

Environment

*

   

Other

4

Nothing

2

No opinion

12



 

What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? [Open-ended; Adds to more than 100% due to multiple responses)]

 

ECONOMIC PROBLEMS (NET)

2001 Jan 10-14

%

22

1

Economy in general

7

2

Taxes

5

3

Unemployment/jobs

4

4

Recession

4

5

Fuel/oil prices

2

6

Federal budget deficit

1

7

High cost of living/inflation

1

8

Wage issues

1

9

Gap between rich and poor

1

10

Trade relations/deficit

*

11

Other specific economic

*

NON-ECONOMIC PROBLEMS (NET)

77

1

Ethics/moral/religious/family decline; dishonesty; lack of integrity

13

2

Education

12

3

Crime/violence

9

4

Drugs

7

5

Poor healthcare/ hospitals; high cost of healthcare

7

6

Dissatisfaction with government/ congress/ politicians/ candidates; poor leadership; corruption

9

7

International issues/ problems

4

8

Poverty/ hunger/ homelessness

4

9

Lack of energy sources

4

10

Race relations/ racism

4

11

Election/election reform

2

12

Children’s behavior/ way they are raised

3

13

Medicare/Social Security issues

3

14

Lack of military defense

2

15

Environment/ pollution

2

16

Care for the elderly

2

17

Immigration/illegal aliens

2

18

Welfare

2

19

Judicial system/courts/laws

1

20

Overpopulation

1

21

Unifying the country

1

22

The media

1

23

Abortion

1

24

Child abuse

1

25

Guns/gun control

1

26

Fear of war

*

27

AIDS

*

28

School shootings/school violence

0

29

Advancement of computers/technology

0

30

Foreign aid/focus overseas

*

31

Other non-economic

3

No opinion

8

Total

135%

 

 

Regardless of who wins the election, what single issue or challenge are you most interested in having the next president address when he takes office next January?  

 July 6-9, 2000

 
 

%

Education

12

Social Security

9

Healthcare/healthcare costs/healthcare reform

9

Taxes

6

The economy

5

Abortion

4

Gun control

4

Care for the elderly

4

Medicare

3

Poverty/the poor/homelessness

2

Defense/national defense

2

Foreign policy

2

Cost of prescription drugs

2

Gas prices

2

Federal deficit

2

Welfare/welfare reform

2

 

II. Do Americans think the educational system is in really bad shape today?

It depends on how you ask the question. The American public generally gives higher grades to the state of education in their local communities than they do to the educational system across the country. Similarly, parents give higher grades to the education their children receive than they do to the educational system nationally. (This type of local-versus-national disparity is often noted in survey research, and also pertains to such issues as healthcare and crime.)

A Gallup survey conducted for the international educational association Phi Delta Kappa has shown for years that the grades Americans give to schools in their local communities are much higher than grades they give to schools nationally. Forty-seven percent of American adults give the schools in their communities a grade of A or B, while only 20% give an A or B grade to schools across the country.

Along these same lines, a Gallup poll conducted August 24-27 of last year showed that 61% of the public is either "somewhat dissatisfied" or "completely dissatisfied" with the quality of education in this country, while 36% is "completely satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied." Dissatisfaction appears to be growing, as opinion was more evenly divided on the quality of education in this country in 1999, when 47% were satisfied and 51% were dissatisfied.

Opinion differs dramatically, however, on the quality of education one’s own children receive. In the same poll, 78% of parents of school-aged children say they are either completely satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the quality of education their (oldest) child is receiving, while only 18% express any sort of dissatisfaction. In contrast to the education numbers for the country as a whole, parents’ satisfaction with their children’s schooling has remained relatively stable during the past year.

Students are often given the grades A, B, C, D, and FAIL to denote the quality of their work. Suppose the public schools themselves, in this community, were graded in the same way. What grade would you give the public schools here -- A, B, C, D, or FAIL?(Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa Study)

 

 

National
totals

No children
in school

Public school
parents

 

 

2000

 

1999

 

2000

 

1999

 

2000

 

1999

%

%

%

%

%

%

A & B

47

49

44

47

56

56

A

11

11

10

10

14

15

B

36

38

34

37

42

41

C

35

31

35

31

33

31

D

8

9

8

10

6

8

FAIL

3

5

3

4

3

4

Don’t know

7

6

10

8

2

1

 

How about the public schools in the nation as a whole? What grade would you give the public schools nationally -- A, B, C, D, or FAIL?(Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa study)

 

 

National
totals

No children
in school

Public school
parents

 

2000

 

1999

 

2000

 

1999

 

2000

 

1999

%

%

%

%

%

%

A & B

20

24

19

26

22

21

A

2

2

2

1

2

3

B

18

22

17

25

20

18

C

47

46

47

43

47

50

D

14

16

14

16

12

17

FAIL

5

4

6

4

4

5

Don’t know

14

10

14

11

15

7

 

Overall, how satisfied are you with the quality of education students receive in grades kindergarten through grade twelve in the U.S. today -- would you say completely satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied or completely dissatisfied?"

 

 

Completely satisfied

Somewhat satisfied

Somewhat dissatisfied

Completely dissatisfied

No
opinion

 

         

2000 Aug 24-27

7%

29

40

21

3

 

         

1999 Aug 24-26

8%

39

38

13

2

III. What does the public want done to improve education?

Over the years, there has been no shortage of suggestions for programs and changes designed to improve the educational system in this country. In a recent Gallup poll, Americans were given a list of a number of things that could be done to improve education, and asked to rate each one in terms of their perception of how much it would improve the system. Here is a summary of the responses:

Please tell me how much each of the following proposals would improve public schools -- a great deal, fair amount, not much, or not at all? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

 


January 5-7, 2001

 

A great deal

 

Fair
amount

A great deal/
fair amount

       
 

%

%

%

Paying teachers better

52

32

84

Providing more federal money for local school districts to use as they see fit

40

40

80

Using standardized tests to hold schools accountable

38

35

73

Providing more federal money for programs specified by the federal government

29

37

66

Providing school vouchers

21

33

54

Providing charter schools

17

36

53



 

As can be seen, it is money that seems to be most important, at least among the six choices provided in this list. Americans are most likely to say that paying teachers better would improve education, followed by providing more federal money to be used by the schools "as they see fit." Standardized tests are given a lower probability of making a difference by the public. It is important to note that vouchers are voted quite low on a relative basis, with only 21% of Americans saying that they think they would make a "great deal" of difference in improving public schools.

IV. What about alternatives to the current public school system?

Most Americans support reforms to the existing public school system rather than alternatives to the existing system. When given the choice between the two, Americans in the latest education survey conducted by Gallup for Phi Delta Kappa opt for reforming the existing system by almost a two-to-one margin, 59% to 34%. Similarly, when asked which they would prefer -- to improve the existing public schools or to provide vouchers to pay for private and church-related schools, Americans choose the former option by 75% to 22%.

While Americans are opposed to replacing the existing public school system, they are receptive, by varying degrees, to several non-public-school alternatives, including charter schools, home schools, and attendance at private and church-related schools by means of government vouchers for paying tuition.

More than seven in 10 Americans (74%), however, believe that such publicly funded non-public schools should be required to take students from a wider range of backgrounds and academic ability levels than is now generally the case. Americans also believe that these schools should also be accountable to the state in the way public schools are accountable (76% to 21%).

In the latest Gallup/Phi Delta Kappasurvey, among the 49% of Americans who know what such schools are, about seven in 10 favor the idea of charter schools. At the same time, the public believes that charter schools, specifically, should be accountable to the state in the same way the regular public schools are accountable.

By a margin of 57% to 36%, Americans believe that home schools are a bad thing for the nation, although the percentage saying "a bad thing" has declined considerably since the first measurement in 1985, when the figure was 79%. At the same time, nine in 10 Americans (88%) feel that home schools should be required to maintain the same level of educational quality as the regular public schools do. Virtually the same percentage, 92%, would require home-schooled children to take all the state and national assessment tests public school students are required to take each year.

 

In order to improve public education in America, some people think the focus should be on reforming the existing public school system. Others believe the focus should be on finding an alternative to the existing public school system. Which approach do you think is preferable -- reforming the existing public school system or finding an alternative to the existing public school system?

 

 

National
totals

No children
in school

Public school
parents

 

 

2000

 

1999

 

1997

 

2000

 

1999

 

1997

 

2000

 

1999

 

1997

Reforming existing system

59%

71

71

59

73

70

60

68

72

Finding alternative system

34%

27

23

34

24

23

34

30

24

Don’t know

7%

2

6

7

3

7

6

2

4

 

Which one of these two plans would you prefer -- improving and strengthening the existing public schools or providing vouchers for parents to use in selecting and paying for private and/or church-related schools?

 

 

National
totals

No children
in school

Public school
parents

 

2000

1999

2000

1999

2000

1999

Improving existing public schools

75%

70

74

72

78

68

Providing vouchers

22%

28

21

26

21

30

Neither

*

1%

*

1

*

1

Don’t know/refused

3%

1

5

1

1

1

*Less than 0.5%

 

Have you heard or read about so-called charter schools?

 

 

National
Totals

No Children
in School

Public School
Parents

Yes

49%

49

44

No

50%

49

55

Don’t know

1%

2

1



 

As you may know, charter schools operate under a charter or contract that frees them from many of the state regulations imposed on public schools and permits them to operate independently. Do you favor or oppose the idea of charter schools?

 

 

National
totals

No children
in school

Public school
parents

Favor

42%

42

40

Oppose

47%

47

47

Don’t know

11%

11

13



V. Vouchers have been one of the most controversial aspects of the Bush proposals. How do Americans feel about vouchers and school choice plans?

Americans’ opinions about the controversial issue of school vouchers have not yet formed into well-defined patterns of either support or opposition. A review of survey research conducted over the past year on the issue reveals a wide range of responses to school choice and school voucher programs -- responses that largely depend on the way in which the programs are described to respondents as the questions are being asked. The data suggest that support intensifies when survey questions say that the programs provide a choice for parents, that only part of the cost might be provided, or that attending religious schools is an option. Support is lowest when the programs are more simply described as providing government funding for students to attend private schools.

The vouchers issue is a complex area of public policy. The idea of providing parents and students with a choice of the way in which they can use public tax monies targeted for education is a concept that can be operationalized into specific programs in a variety of ways. No single voucher program has been advanced nationally, and it is likely that many Americans are only vaguely familiar with the concept.

Still, it is also likely that the issue of voucher programs will become one of the more hotly contested public policy dimensions in the months ahead, given the importance President George W. Bush has placed on some form of "school choice" in both his presidential campaign and his transition discussions. Education Secretary nominee Roderick Paige, who has supported the concept of vouchers in limited form in the past, was forced to react to criticism of the concept in his confirmation hearings this past week.

Reactions to Voucher Concept Depend on the Way It Is Specified
When survey researchers ask Americans about their level of support for voucher and school choice programs, the way the hypothetical program is outlined causes the responses to vary widely. Respondents, either because they are unfamiliar with the voucher concept or because they realize that there are many ways in which a voucher program can be set up, apparently listen carefully for cues and details about the program as the question is being read to them, and then respond based on what they hear.

The differences in responses to the varied question wordings can be highly significant. In some surveys, support for a form of a voucher program can be as much as 30% higher than opposition to that program. In other surveys, opposition can outweigh support by up to 18%.

For example, for a voucher program described as one that gives parents and students a choice or an option, one that pays only part of the cost, and one that would allow students to use the vouchers to attend "religious" (as opposed to "private") schools, support can extend well beyond a majority. On the other hand, programs that are described more tersely, without much elaboration, that talk about private schools without mention of "religion," and that make the program sound more like a direct payment to all parents, seem generally to attract significantly lower levels of support.

Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa Surveys
A series of annual surveys conducted by Gallup for Phi Delta Kappa has included a group of questions measuring the public’s attitudes toward the voucher/school choice issue.

In recent years, these surveys have included two different questions about the school choice concept, although neither question used the word "voucher," per se. Support for vouchers has varied from year to year in response to both questions, but during this past year both surveys found less than a majority supporting the concept using either wording.

Here is the shorter wording of the concept used in these surveys, along with the trends on a year-to-year basis:

 

Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose
a private school to attend at public expense?

 

Favor

Oppose

 

   
 

%

%

2000

39

56

1999

41

55

1998

44

50

1997

44

52

1996

36

61

1995

33

65

1993

24

74



 This description of the school choice concept has elicited majorityoppositionin each year in which it has been asked since 1993, although the degree of opposition has varied, from a 50-point margin of opposition in 1993, to only a six-point opposition margin in 1998. This past year’s surveys had a 17-point negative margin. The question uses only the words "private school" (rather than "religious school") to explain the concept of vouchers and does not explain the concept to the extent to which other questions do.

Here is the second wording used in the Phi Delta Kappa surveys:

 

 

A proposal has been made that would allow parents to send their school-age children to any public, private, or church-related school they choose. For those parents choosing non-public schools, the government would pay all or part of the tuition. Would you favor or oppose this proposal in your state?

 

Favor

Oppose

 

   

 

%

%

2000

45

52

1999

51

47

1998

51

45

1997

49

48

1996

43

54

1994

45

54

 This wording has generated more positive response from the public. In fact, for 1997, 1998 and 1999, more people supported than opposed the concept, although this past year support has dropped back to a net seven-percentage-point opposition.

Why does the more elaborate wording generate more support? As is always the case in surveys, there may be idiosyncratic survey context effects that could affect the responses to questions. But there are several differences in the wording that may plausibly be causing the differences in support and opposition levels. First, the elaborate wording stresses that the idea is a "proposal," which may suggest reasonableness or that it is a concept subject to further modification. Second, the elaborate question emphasizes any "public, private, or church-related" school, as opposed to just a private school. Third, the elaborate-wording version mentions "allor part" of the tuition.

An Experiment
To more systematically test the implications of these types of variations in the way in which a hypothetical voucher program is described to respondents, a January 5-7 Gallup poll included two different descriptions of the concept, each given to a randomly selected half of the overall sample. The changes in wording produced significantly different responses.

Here are the two questions and the results:

VERSION A: Please tell me whether you would vote for or against the following proposition. Would you vote for or against a system giving parents the option of using government-funded school vouchers to pay for tuition at the public, private or religious school of their choice?

 

For

62%

Against

36

Don’t know

2



VERSION B: Please tell me whether you would vote for or against the following proposition. Would you vote for or against a system giving parents government-funded school vouchers to pay for tuition at a private school?

 

For

48%

Against

47

Don’t know

5



The differences in responses to the two ways of presenting the voucher idea are significant. Version A wins the support of the public by a 26% margin, while version B essentially breaks even.

While the basic form of the questions is exactly the same, three differences were built into the wording used in the two versions:

  • Version A includes the phrase "giving parentsthe option of usinggovernment-funded school vouchers," while Version B says more simply, "giving parents government-funded school vouchers."
  • Version A includes the phrase "public,private orreligiousschool," while version B says more simply "private school."
  • Version A includes the phrase "of their choice," while Version B does not.

Without further experimentation, it is not possible to determine precisely which of these three variations induced the biggest differences in support for vouchers. The above experiment, however, does support the hypothesis that reminding respondents that voucher programs would include options and choices, and adding the fact that the choices of schools could include other public schools and religious schools, makes a difference in the acceptance of such programs by the public.

General Concept of Vouchers Tied to Bush
In the January 5-7 survey, Americans were also asked about George W. Bush’s voucher program without any explanation of what the program entailed or how it would be specifically put into action:

Based on what you have read or heard, do you favor or oppose the school voucher program George W. Bush has proposed?

 

Favor

43%

Oppose

36

No opinion

19

This question included none of the specific descriptions of vouchers that were included in the questions reviewed above. The fact that it nevertheless elicits a seven percent favor-over-oppose margin suggests that, everything else being equal, there is a baseline of some support for the general concept of vouchers when it is explicitly tied to Bush.

The Voucher Issue Essentially up for Grabs
All in all, the existing survey research suggests that there is neither consistent support nor consistent opposition to voucher programs at this time. Public support for voucher programs is essentially up for grabs and, in the months ahead, the way in which such programs are both defined and explained in the ongoing public debate will have a significant impact on public receptivity to them. The inchoate state of the voucher concept in the minds of the public makes the issue one that is extraordinarily amenable to development, and the winners of the debate may well be the groups that arrive first and strongest with their interpretation of what voucher programs entail and their explanations of their benefits and costs. 

VI. Do Americans favor standardized, national school testing?

For several decades in the Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa surveys, the public has, by percentages of 70% and more, backed the use of standardized national achievement testing for measuring both student academic progress and for grade promotion, including high school graduation.

Here are the results of a question asked in the most recent Gallup poll:

Should public school students be required to pass a standardized test in order to be promoted to the next grade, or not?

[BASED ON -- 514 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A; ±4 PCT. PTS.]

 

Yes, should be

No, should not

No opinion

       

2001 Jan 5-7

77%

20

3



 

In a recent Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa study, the public has favored, by 71% to 25%, the federal government administration of a voluntary national program that would routinely test fourth and eighth graders to measure the performance of the nation’s public schools. At the same time, Americans appear to have some reservations about achievement testing, particularly about the amount of testing in their local schools.

For example, the public is divided on whether, on an overall basis, there is too much or too little achievement testing in the local schools. Forty-three percent say there is about the right amount and the remainder is roughly split between those who think there is too much and those who feel there is too little testing.

Americans, by 68% to 26%, also believe that examples of public school students’ work offer a better way to measure their academic achievement than do their scores on standardized local and state achievement tests.

 

Now, here are some questions about testing. In your opinion, is there too much emphasis on achievement testing in the public schools in your community, not enough emphasis on testing, or about the right amount?

 

 

National
totals

No children
in school

Public school
parents

 

2000

1997

2000

1997

2000

1997

%

%

%

%

%

%

Too much emphasis

30

20

28

20

34

19

Not enough emphasis

23

28

26

28

19

26

About the right amount 

43

48

41

46

46

54

Don’t know

4

4

5

6

1

1



 

In your opinion, should the primary use of tests be to determine how much students have learned or to determine the kind of instruction they need in the future?

 

 

National
totals

No children
in school

Public school
parents

Determine how much students have learned

30%

32

27

Determine the kind of instruction needed

65%

63

69

Don’t know

5%

5

4



 

In your opinion, which is the best way to measure student academic achievement -- by means of test scores or by classroom work and homework?

 

 

 

 

National
totals

No children
in school

Public school
parents

Test scores

26%

28

23

Classroom work and homework

68%

66

71

Don’t know

6%

6

6



 

Do you think it is fair or unfair to use a single standardized test to determine what a student knows or has achieved?

[BASED ON -- 504 -- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B; ±5 PCT. PTS.]

 

Fair

Unfair

No opinion

       

2001 Jan 5-7

45%

53

2



Do you think standardized tests are or are not an accurate way to measure whether students have learned what they need to in order to pass to the next grade?

 

Are

Are not

No opinion

       

2001 Jan 5-7

54%

41

5




VII. What about the importance of teachers in improving schools?

When Americans are asked which one of four possibilities offers the most promise for improving the public schools in their communities, more than half (52%) answer "a qualified, competent teacher in every classroom." The next most frequently mentioned response, with only 19%, is "a free choice for parents among a number of private, church-related, and public schools," followed closely by "rigorous academic standards," with 17%.

As a way to attract and retain good teachers, the public favors increased pay for all teachers, by a margin of 62% to 37%, while as many as nine in 10 are in favor of increased pay for teachers who demonstrate high performance.

As regards demonstrated performance, moreover, more than eight in 10 (85%) feel that it is either very or fairly important that increased teacher pay should be tied to the scores their students receive on standardized achievement tests.

The public is divided as to whether teacher unionization has helped, hurt, or made no difference as regards the quality of education in the nation. About a quarter (27%) say it has helped, another quarter (26%) say it has hurt, and the remaining 47% say it has made no difference or they have no opinion. The percentage who feel unionization has hurt educational quality, however, has declined from 38% to the aforementioned 26% over the last 25 years.

 

Of the following four possibilities, which one do you think offers the most promise for improving the public schools in your community: rigorous academic standards; a qualified, competent teacher in every classroom; the elimination of social promotion (that is, moving students from grade to grade to keep them in their own age group); or free choice for parents among a number of private, church-related, and public schools?

 

 

National
totals

No children
in school

Public school
parents

       
 

%

%

%

A qualified, competent teacher in every classroom

52

49

59

Free choice for parents among a number of private, church-related, and public schools

19

18

15

Rigorous academic standards

17

21

15

The elimination of social promotion

10

10

10

Don’t know

2

2

1

 

VIII. More generally, what do Americans think the role of the federal government should be in improving education, an essentially local issue?

Republicans have traditionally emphasized a more "hands off" approach to education as far as the federal government’s role is concerned, leading, in past years, as far as efforts to abolish the Department of Education. Yet the extraordinary importance placed on education in the presidential election last year by voters suggests that the public indeed feels that the federal government may have a role to play in improving educational outcomes across the country. Indeed, Gallup polling this year -- and in 1988 and 1992 -- shows that Americans think that the head of the federal government, the president, can have a significant positive impact on improving education in this country.

As is often the case in public opinion polling, however, the way in which Americans are asked about the role of the federal government can make a significant difference in the types of responses obtained.

One question asked by Gallup this past fall suggests that Americans tilt toward favoring more federal government involvement in education rather than less. This question stressed "public education in this country" (as opposed to local schools), did not mention "Washington," used the word "involved" (as opposed to control or influence) and gave respondents the opportunity to say "keep involvement the same." With all of these aspects of the question, the responses obtained were as follows:

In terms of public education in this country, do you think the federal government: should be more involved in education than it currently is, should keep its involvement about the same, or should be less involved in education than it currently is?[RANDOM ORDER]

 

 

National Adults

K-12 Parents

 April 7-9, 2000

 

 

More involved

46%

50%

Keep involvement same

22

22

Less involved

29

26

No opinion

3

2

Total

100%

100%

Other questions have found a type of response different from the question outlined above. For example, a question that used the following wording:"Now, let’s focus on the decisions made that affect the public schools in your community. As I name a specific group or individual, please tell me whether you think that group or individual has too much, too little, or just about the right amount of say in the decisions that affect the local public schools"gets a much more negative response. By a margin of about two to one in response to this wording, Americans say would like the federal government to have less influence (61%) rather than more (33%) in determining local decisions. The current numbers are virtually the same as those obtained in two of three previous surveys since 1986.

In a similar vein, in the same survey, 49% say the federal government has too much influence on the decisions that affect the local public schools, compared to 16% who feel the government has too little influence, and 29% who say about the right amount.

In regards to determining how federal money should be distributed to the states, seven in 10 Americans (71%) think the states should be given flexibility or leeway in how the money should be spent, while 23% think the money should be specifically designated for particular programs.

 

Now, let’s focus on the decisions made that affect the public schools in your community. As I name a specific group or individual, please tell me whether you think that group or individual has too much, too little, or just about the right amount of say in the decisions that affect the local public schools.

 

 

Too
much

Too
little

About the
right amount

Don’t
know

         
 

%

%

%

%

Federal government

49

16

29

6

State government 

43

15

36

6

Local board of education

29

18

49

4

School superintendent

25

18

51

6

Local teacher union

21

32

35

12

Principals

14

31

51

4

Students

11

56

30

3

Parents

7

66

25

2

Teachers

7

57

33

3

 

Thinking about the future, would you like to see the federal government in Washington have more influence or less influence in determining the educational programs of the local public schools?

 

 

2000

1995

1987

1986

More influence

33%

28

37

26

Less influence

61%

64

39

53

Same amount

*

5%

14

12

Don’t know

6%

3

10

9

 

 

IX. What is it exactly that the people want the federal government to do?

The most important step the federal government could take would be to "send more money," as seen in the responses below. Americans would also like federal help with enforcing teacher standards and providing the wherewithal to increase teacher pay:

What action by the federal government do you think would be most effective in helping to improve public schools in the United States today? [Open-ended; record up to three mentions.]

 

 

National adults

K-12 Parents

     

 

%

%

Funding/more money for education (general)

30

33

Standards for teachers/teacher testing/improve quality of teachers

13

11

Teacher pay/pay teachers more money

9

9

Operate at the state/local level

8

8

Less government involvement

7

7

Discipline

5

5

Class size/smaller classes

4

5

Curriculum/go back to teaching basics

4

4

Standards for students/testing students

4

4

Control violence/make schools safer

3

4

Bring prayer back in schools

3

3

Hire more teachers

2

3

Provide better school supplies/materials/technology

2

4

School buildings/build more schools

2

1

Allow vouchers

2

3

Monitor schools more closely/be more involved

2

3

Parental involvement

1

2

Equal funding across the board

1

2

More well rounded curriculum

1

2

More activities/programs for kids

1

2

Need to be regulated/standardized

1

1

Tax cuts/advantages

1

1

More involved with students

*

1

Drug education/awareness

*

1

School choice

*

*

Teacher incentives

*

1

Better schools (general)

*

*

Not allowing vouchers

*

*

Longer schools session

*

--

Parental guidance/role models

*

*

 

 

 

Other

10

10

Nothing

4

1

No opinion

12

9

 

*Less than 0.5%

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