33ND ANNUAL PHI DELTAL KAPPA/GALLUP POLL PUBLIC ATTITUDES TOWARD PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Public support for public schools is at an all-time high. For the first time in the 33-year history of the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, a majority of respondents gave their schools either an A or B. Fifty-one percent of all those surveyed rated their schools an A or B with the figure climbing to 62 percent for public school parents and to 68 percent when these same parents were asked to grade the school their oldest child attends. On the 2000 Carolina Poll, 52 percent of North Carolinians said they would give the public schools in their communities a grade of A or B.
Strengthen Existing Schools
According to the survey, these high marks may explain why 72 percent of Americans believe that reforming the existing system of public schools is preferable to seeking an alternative system. This figure is up from 59 percent last year. When given the choice, 71 percent would improve and strengthen existing public schools while 27 percent would opt for vouchers. In 2000, 75 percent were in favor of improving and strengthening existing schools, while 22 percent chose vouchers instead of reform. In North Carolina, 2000 Carolina Poll results showed that 62 percent were in favor of reforming the existing system of schools while 19 percent were in favor of finding an alternative system.
Signals Mixed on Testing
The public sends mixed signals on standardized tests. Fifty-three percent favor using a single standardized test to determine promotion from grade to grade, while 45 percent oppose this practice. When high-stakes testing involves awarding a diploma, the figures change to 57 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed. However, 66 percent believe that standardized tests should be used to guide instruction, while only 30 percent said tests should be used to measure student learning. Sixty-five percent report that classroom work and homework should measure student achievement, with 31 percent believing that measuring student achievement should rely on testing.
Eighty-eight percent of the public said they would raise teacher salaries. Eighty-nine percent would make it easier for teachers to transfer pension benefits and receive salary credit when moving from state to state in order to retain more teachers. Eight-two percent oppose lowering state requirements for teacher training and 67 percent oppose permitting people with bachelor's degrees to become teachers without preparation in teacher education.
Voucher Support Declines
Support for allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense is on the decline. The proportion of respondents in favor of allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense started at 24 percent in 1993, rose to 44 percent in 1997 and 1998, dropped to 39 percent in 2000, and dropped again to 34 percent in 2001. A majority of North Carolinians, 55 percent, opposes using public funds to help students pay for private schools, according to the Carolina Poll. In North Carolina, 33 percent of those polled favor use of public funds for this purpose, while the national figure is 34 percent.
Most Pressing Problems
For the second year, lack of financial support is at the top of the list of the biggest problems facing public schools. Fifteen percent identified lack of financial support and the same percentage identified lack of discipline as the biggest problems. Fighting/violence/gangs and overcrowded schools were each mentioned by 10 percent. The public overwhelmingly believes that the amount of money spent on a public school student's education affects the quality of his or her education. Sixty-eight percent said money affects quality a great deal or quite a lot.
New Questions Asked
For the first time, questions were asked about students earning credit over the Internet, how to treat schools that do not show progress toward state standards, and minority achievement. Seventy-three percent say that lower achievement of minority students is related to factors other than schooling. Eighty-eight percent believe that closing the gap is either very important or somewhat important. Fifty-five percent say that it is the public schools' responsibility to close the gap, while 45 percent believe the responsibility belongs to the government.
- The public is not well informed about charter schools. Forty-four percent of those surveyed have neither read nor heard about charter schools. Forty-nine percent of those polled oppose the idea of charter schools while 42 percent favor them. A total of 77 percent of those polled nationally think that charter schools should be accountable to the state in the way regular public schools are accountable.
- The public is divided on home schools, with 50 percent believing home schooling does not contribute to raising academic standards and 43 percent believing it does. A total of 49 percent of respondents believe home schooling does not promote good citizenship, and 46 percent believe that it does.
- Sixty-seven percent disapprove of allowing students to earn high school credits over the Internet without attending a regular school.
- Seventy-two percent oppose having a school board contract with local businesses or private companies to run schools.
- Fifty-two percent believe that all students can learn at high levels and 46 percent believe that only some can.
- Sixty-five percent favor awarding more state and federal dollars to schools that do not show progress toward state standards while 54 percent favor not renewing the contract of the principal, and 49 percent favor not renewing teachers' contracts. Fifty-one percent favor giving vouchers to parents in such schools.
- Fifty-four percent want a varied curriculum for high schools, while 44 percent choose an emphasis on basic courses.
- Fifty-five percent believe that the public high schools should offer a course in firearm safety. A total of 73 percent oppose permitting public school security employees to bring their handguns onto school property.
For more on the results, go to the Phi Delta Kappa Web site at http://www.pdkintl.org
About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.
For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.