WASHINGTON — DESPITE much national grumbling, American parents seem quite satisfied with their children's public schools: 28 percent of parents gave A's and 42 percent gave B's to the schools, while only 12 percent assigned D's and F's in a recent Gallup poll for the Bloomington, Ind.-based Phi Delta Kappa - a national educational organization.
Many parents said the quality of their children's schools had either improved or stayed the same in the last five years.
By demographic group, those most impressed with their schools were rural parents and midwesterners, with 54 percent and 52 percent respectively giving high marks. Those least satisfied were urban parents; only 32 percent gave A's and B's.
Despite overall satisfaction, problems abound. For the first time in the annual survey, fighting, violence, and gangs along with lack of discipline were cited as the most serious problems nationwide. Last year, lack of proper financial support was perceived as the most significant problem, though it still ranks third among concerns. Other major sources of worry include drug abuse and the quality of education.
As for the causes, 78 percent of the public is convinced that increased violence can be blamed on an expanded use of drugs and alcohol. Other major causes related to violence, says the public, are the growth of youth gangs, the easy availability of weapons, and a general breakdown in the American family.
Of the rising concern about violence, the report's authors comment, ``It was most likely a media creation. There is no gainsaying, however, that Americans live in a violent culture - four times more violent, some experts say, than that of Western Europe.'' The most effective solution to the violence? Eighty-six percent recommend stronger penalties for student possession of weapons; 72 percent say school staffs should be trained to prevent violence; 67 percent support more vocational or job-training courses in public schools.
And, although not the most popular solution, a growing number of parents recommend values education. ``The fundamental tragedy of American education is not that we are turning out ignoramuses but that we are turning out savages,'' says Dr. Frederick Close of the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics Resource Center in the report. Support for values education among parents has grown from 45 percent to 57 percent in the past seven years. As for which values to teach, more than 90 percent of respondents thought the following acceptable for the classroom: respect for others, hard work, persistence, fairness, compassion, and civility.
Strong backing was also found for President Clinton's educational agenda: 81 percent support federal assistance for student college expenses in return for public service; 79 percent agreed with placing greater emphasis on vocational programs for the noncollege bound. Also, 54 percent support the idea of vouchers - public money supporting non-public schools; but an equal number approve and disapprove of for-profit companies running schools.