Poll: Americans Favor Obama over Romney for Strengthening Public Schools

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Americans overall say President Obama is the presidential candidate who will do more to strengthen public education, but independent voters have more confidence in Mitt Romney for that job.

This is a key finding in a poll measuring public opinion on Americas state of education, which was released Wednesday by Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) and Gallup.

Specifically, 49 percent of Americans overall prefer Mr. Obama for strengthening public education, while 44 percent overall favor Mr. Romney. But the percentage siding with Romney goes up to 46 percent when only independent voters are considered, while Obama slips to 41 percent.

Romneys support from independent voters is probably related to Massachusetts education standards shifting from medium- to high- achieving during his tenure as governor, says Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington. Mr. Finn participated in a conference call with reporters Tuesday to comment on PDK/Gallups 44th annual Poll on the Publics Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

His track record of accomplishment may make a difference in public perception of Romney, says Mr. Finn.

Finn says he is disappointed by another finding in the poll: Respondents were reluctant to provide free public education, school lunches, and other benefits to children of illegal immigrants. Fifty- eight percent of Americans oppose this, although opposition is down from 67 percent in 1995. Opinion is split down party lines, with 65 percent of Democrats but only 21 percent of Republicans in favor.

It is our responsibility to educate every child who is here, no matter how they got here, says Finn.

The public is also split, the study found, on what measures should be used to evaluate teachers.

Fifty-two percent said they are in favor of states requiring that students standardized test results be used in teacher evaluations, and 40 percent of adults said that one-third to two-thirds of a teachers evaluation should be based on how well students perform on standardized tests.

Lily Eskelsen, who is vice president of the National Education Association and also participated in the conference call, opposes this approach. Its important that teachers unions talk with administrators about teacher evaluations and how to improve them, she says.

She gave an example from Helena, Mont., where teachers developed their own criteria, based on course subjects, to measure student progress. The criteria had to be approved by a committee of peers and administrators. Parents agreed with the system, Ms. Eskelsen says.

The public wants children and educators to be held to high standards, she says. …