Polls Show US Public's Education Concerns

AMERICANS see family-related problems - such as drug abuse, poor discipline, and lack of parental responsibility - as a major cause of the nation's educational crisis, two national public-opinion polls show. Yet Americans seem to have enough faith in families to say education would improve if parent were more involvement in school management and in choosing schools for their children.

The polls were done by the Roper Organization for the United States Chamber of Commerce and by the Gallup Organization for Phi Delta Kappa International, an organization of education professionals. Both polls show a generally low public opinion about the quality of American education.

When grading public schools nationally, 69 percent of those polled by Gallup and 49 percent of the Roper respondents gave only a passing grade, or less. And 91 percent of those polled by Roper said they are concerned about the state of US education.

Both surveys show that Americans with children in school tend to be more satisfied with their local schools than they are with the image of schools nationally. This reflects a public awareness that a positive personal experience with local schools does not necessarily negate the heavily played news media theme that education nationally is falling down on the jobs of literacy and values education, says G. Donald Ferree, associate director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut (and not a part of the Roper Organization).

The Roper poll asked how well teachers, administrators, school boards, community leaders, business, students, and parents were tending to their responsibilities to education. While majorities rated all groups as doing ``well'' or ``fairly well,'' parents and students themselves fared the poorest.

Parents were least often cited for carrying out their responsibilities well and most often cited for falling down on the job, according to Roper.

The Gallup poll showed that drug abuse and lack of discipline rank as the two most often cited problems facing local public schools. And 73 percent ranked societal problems above public school performance as more at fault for education failure.

Roper found 92 percent polled said more parental involvement in curriculum and school administration would improve the quality of education. Fifty-six percent said letting parents choose which school to send their children to would improve education. Gallup found that most of those polled felt that parents have little or no say in curriculum and teacher and administrative salaries and hiring.

Gallup also found that 62 percent of those polled favor allowing families to choose which public schools their children attend. Civil rights organizations and minority groups have opposed this choice on the grounds it might further resegregate schools. But the Gallup poll found that minorities favored parental choice in stronger numbers than whites did - 72 percent of the minorities polled supported it as compared with 60 percent of whites.

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