- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2003

More than two-thirds of Americans give their local public schools a grade of B or C, but more than half say schools nationally deserve a C, according to polling by a professional education group.

Eleven percent give their local and national public schools an A, and 15 percent give a D or F, according to the 35th annual poll conducted by Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional education association, and Gallup.

And more than three-fourths said they know little or nothing about the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act that requires school reforms to improve achievement of poor-performing students.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige called the findings “a welcome challenge.”

“Our entire department, members of Congress, the business community, and state and local leaders are thoroughly involved in outreach efforts to better inform Americans about the significance of this new law and how it will affect them, our children, and our nation,” Mr. Paige said.

“One only needs to look at the many news articles that are now appearing in newspapers and other media across the country to see how the principles of this law are taking root … We know what America can achieve when it focuses on something.”

Ninety percent of those polled said it is important to close the achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students, but a majority said spending more money on low-achieving students is not the answer.

A report of the poll results issued yesterday said 73 percent of respondents believe education reform should come through existing public schools, up from 69 percent in 2002, while the number of those seeking an alternative system is 25 percent, slightly down from 27 percent last year.

Support for a voucher program that allows families to use their children’s allotment of public school funds for private schools fell to 38 percent from 46 percent in 2002.

The number opposed to vouchers climbed to 60 percent, from 52 percent in 2002, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that ruled voucher plans are constitutional, including those for religious schools, the report said.

Other poll findings:

• “Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that it is possible to narrow the achievement gap [between whites and minorities] without spending more money on low-achieving students.”

• Funding is seen by 25 percent of respondents “as the biggest problem schools in their communities must face,” followed by discipline, cited by 16 percent, and overcrowding, 14 percent.

• The emphasis on standardized tests to measure reading and mathematics achievement in grades 4, 8, and 11 is encouraging teachers to “teach to the tests,” according to two-thirds of parents. Almost the same number say this will be “a bad thing.”

• Half the respondents said parents do not have enough information about local schools to choose another school for their children if theirs was identified as in need of improvement — an option required under the No Child Left Behind Act.

• Sixty percent said their local school system has a hard time getting good teachers, and two-thirds said they have a hard time keeping them. About the same number said teacher salaries were too low and should be increased, regardless of whether the schools in which they teach have been identified as in need of improvement.

The survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, included 1,011 adults age 18 and older. The complete poll can be found at www.pdkintl.org.

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