For Immediate Release: July 30, 2007
William G. Howell, University of Chicago, (773) 834-8319
Paul E. Peterson, Harvard University, (617) 495-8312/7976
Full article: "What Americans Think about Their Schools"
Cambridge -- A new national survey by the Program on Education Policy and Governance’s Education Next at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University finds that a majority of the public backs the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the accountability it has brought to public education.
When asked for their view on the matter, 57 percent of adults suggested that Congress renew the act either as is or with minor changes, according to the poll findings.
“The level of support for federal accountability legislation is even higher, if the specific words--No Child Left Behind--are not mentioned in the survey,” reports William G. Howell, PEPG deputy director and a professor at the University of Chicago, who codirected the survey together with Paul E. Peterson of Harvard University and Martin R. West of Brown University. When NCLB is described as “federal legislation” rather than mentioned by name, as was the case for a randomly selected half the survey respondents, support for extending its accountability provisions rises to 71 percent.
“Our results differ from the recent survey by Scripps Howard and the Phi Delta Kappan’s 2006 survey,” Peterson said, “but they are quite consistent with a recent survey by the Educational Testing Service.” Much depends on the way the question is worded, he explained. “If the public is given the option of supporting the law with minor changes rather than simply being asked whether the law should be renewed, changed, or canceled, the level of support jumps significantly.”
Current and former public school employees, however, consistently register lower levels of support for NCLB. Only 42 percent of them support renewing the law with minimal or no changes.
Many of the findings in the new poll show that some reforms long characterized as controversial are in fact supported by a plurality of Americans. For example, the poll reveals that Americans are clearly open to a host of reforms to improve their schools, ranging from high-stakes student accountability to merit pay for teachers to school vouchers.
The poll also shows that the public pulls no punches when grading the quality of its schools. Most give the nation’s public schools only mediocre marks--the majority give them no better than a C. Specifically, 43 percent give the schools in their own community an A or a B, 38 percent give them a C, and 18 percent give a D or F. When asked about public schools around the nation, these grades drop. Just 22 percent give public schools in general an A or B, 55 percent, a C, and 24 percent, a D or F.
Despite their opinions of the schools, a majority of Americans still seem willing to invest more money in the system. Fifty-one percent say that spending on public education should increase; 38 percent think it should remain the same; and 10 percent want spending cuts. Support for additional spending is highest among African Americans, Hispanics, and current and former public school employees, with more than 60 percent of each of those groups calling for increases in public school budgets.
Overall, the public appears mildly optimistic about the impact spending will make: 59 percent are at least somewhat confident that spending more will increase student learning, as are 80 percent of African Americans, 70 percent of Hispanics, and 64 percent of school employees. On the question of decreasing class size or increasing teacher salaries, 77 percent of the public favor creating smaller classes.
Other new findings from the Education Next-PEPG survey:
- Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents support having a single national proficiency standard in public education rather than letting every state set its own proficiency standards.
- 81 percent support requiring students in certain grades to pass an exam before they proceed to the next grade; 85 percent support requiring students to pass an exam before graduating from high school.
- 60 percent support the practice of publishing the average test performance of each school’s students.
Teacher Pay and Licensure
- 45 percent agree that a teacher’s salary should depend in part on students’ academic progress; 31 percent disagree; 24 percent have no opinion.
- A bare majority of Americans supports increasing the salaries of those teaching in challenging school environments instead of using the same funds to offer all teachers a smaller pay increase.
- 48 percent say that principals should be allowed to hire college graduates without teaching credentials; only 33 percent oppose the idea. Among current and former school employees, however, 41 percent oppose the idea.
- 45 percent favor offering vouchers to low-income families; 34 percent oppose the idea. Among different groups the findings are even stronger: 68 percent of African Americans and 61 percent of Hispanics favor vouchers, compared with 38 percent of whites.
- 53 percent of adults favor tax credits for low-income families’ sending their children to private school; only 25 percent oppose them. African Americans and Hispanics express the highest levels of support for tax credits.
- 44 percent support the formation of charter schools, and another 42 percent neither support nor oppose them. Only 14 percent oppose charter schools. Three-quarters of Americans also believe that charter schools should be given at least the same amount of funding per child as district-operated public schools.
- 55 percent believe that home schooled children should be able to take selected classes at local public schools; another 56 percent support allowing them to participate in sports programs.
The survey was conducted on behalf of Education Next and PEPG by the polling firm Knowledge Networks, which specializes in conducting online survey research for government, academic, and business organizations. The findings are based on a nationally representative, stratified sample of 2,000 adults, age 18 years and older.
William G. Howell is an associate professor in the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Martin R. West is an assistant professor of education at Brown University and an executive editor of Education Next. Paul E. Peterson is a professor of government at Harvard University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He serves as editor in chief of Education Next .
Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Kennedy School of Government – Harvard University
Program on Education Policy and Governance
79 JFK Street , T304
Cambridge, MA 02138