- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Americans overwhelmingly want schools to close the achievement gap between white and minority students and reject the idea that a single statewide test is sufficient to judge whether a school needs improvement, according to a national poll.

More than half of 1,003 adults surveyed for the 36th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of Americans’ attitude toward public schools “oppose separating test scores by race and ethnicity, disabled status, English-speaking ability and poverty level” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

This opposition comes despite the fact that reporting data separately for those subgroups generally is regarded as essential to closing the achievement gap, according to Phi Delta Kappa, an association for professional educators.

The achievement gap on fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math tests is as high as 70 points between whites and minority groups in some parts of the nation.

Eighty-eight percent of those surveyed May 28 to June 18 want that gap closed, although only one-fourth said an alternative school system with vouchers and other choices is needed.

“Support for vouchers, the alternative to the public schools most frequently mentioned, continues to fall short of a majority at 42 percent,” the report says.

Almost three-fourths said the gap is related to family and community problems other than schooling, but “bringing about change is regarded as the province of the public schools,” the report concludes.

“Seventy-one percent say change must come by reforming the present system, as compared to 27 percent opting for an alternate system.”

Although more than half those surveyed think that NCLB will improve schools in their community, the reports says “67 percent say the performance of a school’s students on a single test is not sufficient for judging whether the school is in need of improvement.”

The law, however, requires states to set targets for “adequate yearly progress” by students on both a state test and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as “the nation’s report card.” Schools are labeled as “needing improvement” if enough students fail to meet state targets for adequate yearly progress two years in a row.

Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the survey used “softball questions that protect the interests of education establishment lobbyists … .”

“The United States spends more than $500 billion a year on K-12 education, more than we spend on national defense, yet our students lag behind those of other nations in key subjects, and millions of disadvantaged children do not have the same educational opportunities as their more fortunate peers.”

Education consultant Lowell C. Rose, of Bloomington, Ind., the report’s author, said poll results “are simply a snapshot of public opinion based on questions asked.” He said criticism of survey questions “are actually helpful and will be considered as we phrase questions for future polls.”

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