Academic journal article Education Next

What Americans Think about Their Schools: The 2007 Education Next-PEPG Survey

Academic journal article Education Next

What Americans Think about Their Schools: The 2007 Education Next-PEPG Survey

Article excerpt

Americans both care about their schools and want them to improve. Though adults give the nation's public schools only mediocre grades--a plurality confer a "C"--they are willing to invest more money in public education and they are reasonably confident that doing so will improve student learning. They are also open to a host of school reforms ranging from high-stakes student accountability to merit pay for teachers to school vouchers and tax credits that would give low-income families greater access to private schools. By sizable margins, they back reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal law that mandates school accountability.

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The public, however, also appears selective in its desire for change. Americans balk at some market-based reforms, such as paying more for teachers who work in fields like math and science, where quality teachers are in scarce supply. And substantial percentages remain undecided about charter schools and other reform initiatives, suggesting that the current national debate over school policy has the potential to sway public opinion in one direction or another.

All this--and more--is indicated by a new national survey of U.S. adults conducted under the auspices of Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University. (For survey methodology, see sidebar on page 26.) Here we report the opinions of both the public at large and three ethnic subgroups (whites, African Americans, and Hispanics). We also distinguish the views of those who have worked for the public schools from those who have not. Except for opinions on school choice issues, differences across ethnic groups are generally smaller than those between public school employees and those who have never been employed by the schools. Responses to survey questions are provided at the bottom of the ensuing pages.

Accountability

Perhaps the most popular school reforms are those that hold students and schools to account for their performance. Accountability policies take many forms, but the public generally supports the concept in all its guises, including the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

No Child Left Behind

On the most high-profile issue of the day--the debate over extending the life of NCLB--a majority of those polled indicate that they support the law's reauthorization with no more than minor changes (see Figure 1). NCLB requires states to establish performance standards in math and reading; to test students against those standards annually in grades 3 to 8 and again when students are in high school; and to intervene in schools that fail to make adequate annual progress toward the goal of near-universal student proficiency by 2014. The 2002 law is scheduled for reauthorization this year.

Despite NCLB's bipartisan origins, controversy has beset the statute ever since its passage. The law places unprecedented demands on the states, several of which have passed resolutions critical of it. Reporting on recent grass-roots efforts to overturn the law, Time magazine noted that "more than 30,000 educators and concerned citizens have signed an online petition calling for the repeal of the 1,100 page statute."

It is perhaps surprising, then, that the American public holds NCLB in reasonably high regard. When asked for their view on the matter, 57 percent of respondents prefer that Congress renew the act either as is or with minimal changes. Still, the intense debate over NCLB appears to be eroding public support for the law as a symbol. When NCLB is described as "federal legislation" rather than mentioned by name, as was the case for a randomly selected half of our survey respondents, support for extending its accountability provisions rises to 71 percent (Q. 1a, 1b).

Similar levels of support are observed across ethnic lines, with never less than one-half of African Americans, Hispanics, or whites recommending that Congress renew the act as is or with minor changes, regardless of how the question is asked. …

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