How to Fix High School Education: The People Speak

by Frank Newport and Alec Gallup

Americans most likely to focus on better teaching

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- What is the best way to improve high school education in the United States today?

There is no shortage of answers to this question. Potential solutions range from the emphasis of the massive Federal No Child Left Behind law on standardized test results to theories about the necessity of returning high school education back to basics. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as another example, is now in the process of spending billions of dollars with the explicit goal of improving high school education, and have announced on their website that "…the good news is we know how to fix our broken high schools."

Despite the prevalence of much expert opinion on the topic, there is great value in the opinions of the American people themselves, most of whom have been to high school, many of whom have had children who have gone through high school, and a good number of whom are interested observers of the high school education process in their local communities.

With that in mind, a recent Gallup Poll asked Americans to answer a simple question about improving high school education, with the following results:

Just your opinion, what would be the best way to improve high school education in the U.S. today? [OPEN-ENDED]

2006 Aug 7-10

%

Quality teachers/better educated/more involved/caring

17

Back to the basic curriculum/three R's

14

Better discipline in schools

9

Teach more about real life/how to survive

6

Better pay for teachers

5

Reduce number of children per classroom

4

More parental involvement

4

Improve standards for testing

4

Improve school funding

3

Hire more teachers

3

Stop the government from running the schools/get rid of "No Child Left Behind"

2

Spend more time/hours in school

2

Better security/safer schools

2

School vouchers

2

More schools/improved schools

2

Put God back in school

1

More resources in the schools for teaching

1

Get rid of teachers' unions/abolish the NEA

1

Year-round schooling

1

Other

5

Nothing

*

No opinion

12

* Less than .05%

These responses can be grouped as follows:

%

TEACHER RELATED

27

Quality teachers/better educated/more involved/caring

17

Better pay for teachers

5

Hire more teachers

3

More resources in the schools for teaching

1

Get rid of teachers' unions/abolish the NEA

1

CURRICULUM RELATED

20

Back to the basic curriculum/three R's

14

Teach more about real life/how to survive

6

DISCIPLINE AND SECURITY

11

Better discipline in schools

9

Better security/safer schools

2

FINANCIAL

9

Reduce number of children per classroom

4

Improve school funding

3

More schools/improved schools

2

PARENTS

4

More parental involvement

4

OTHER

17

Improve standards for testing

4

Stop the government from running the schools/get rid of "No Child Left Behind"

2

Spend more time/hours in school

2

School vouchers

2

Put God back in school

1

Year-round schooling

1

Other

5

DON'T KNOW

12

Nothing

*

No opinion

12

* Less than 0.5%

In short, there appear to be four major categories of suggestions that the average American would make for improving high school education, in this rank order:

  1. Focus on improving the quality and quantity of teachers
  2. Modify the curriculum, particularly in terms of a return to basics
  3. Provide better financial resources for schools
  4. Provide better discipline and security

Do various subgroups in America differ in their suggestions for improving the local high schools?

The table below shows the top five suggestions from groups of various educational achievement:

Just your opinion, what would be the best way to improve high school education in the U.S. today? [OPEN-ENDED]

High School/Less

Some College

College Grad

1. Quality teachers -- 20%

1. Quality teachers -- 19%

1. Back to basics/3 R's -- 17%

2. Back to basics/3 R's -- 13

2. Back to basics/3 R's -- 13

2. Better discipline -- 11

3. Better discipline -- 8

3. Better discipline -- 10

3. Quality teachers -- 10

4. Teach more real life -- 7

4. Improve testing standards -- 5

Teach more real life -- 10

5. Better teacher pay -- 5

5. Improve school funding -- 4

5. Better teacher pay -- 5

Better teacher pay -- 4

Reduce classroom size -- 5

Reduce class size -- 4

Improve testing standards -- 5

It is interesting to note that college graduates are slightly less likely to mention hiring better quality teachers as the key to improving high school education than are those who have not graduated from college.

The following table displays the responses by the ideology of the respondent:

Just your opinion, what would be the best way to improve high school education in the U.S. today? [OPEN-ENDED]

Conservative

Moderate

Liberal

1. Quality teachers -- 16%

1. Quality teachers -- 19%

1. Quality teachers -- 16%

2. Back to basics/3 R's -- 14

2. Back to basics/3 R's -- 14

2. Back to basics/3 R's -- 11

3. Better discipline -- 12

3. Better discipline -- 9

3. Improve testing standards -- 7

4. Teach more real life -- 8

4. Teach more real life -- 6

4. Better teacher pay -- 6

5. Better teacher pay -- 5

5. Better teacher pay -- 6

5. Teach more real life -- 5

There are few substantive differences by ideology, although conservatives and moderates are slightly more likely to mention better discipline than are liberals.

Bottom Line

The education of America's young people in high school is a massive undertaking, and there is no shortage of those who want to help improve the process. The sheer magnitude of the task is compounded by the fact that there are many different types of students and many different types of high schools. Nevertheless, it is clear that the American people, in a broad sense, coalesce on four major areas of focus when asked how they would go about improving high school education: improving the quality of teaching, modifying the curriculum, providing more money, and making high schools safer.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,007 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 7-10, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public.

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