America Says No To Vouchers

By Frosty Troy

Most Americans love and support public education, a fact that is driving rightwingers to despair.

From Education Secretary Rod Paige and William Bennett to Rush Limbaugh and "Doctor" Laura, a new Gallup Poll knocks down their false, relentless, malicious attack on public schools and public educators.

Americans give record high grades to the public schools, and they don't want tax money used to underwrite private and parochial schools.

These are among the major findings in the 33rd Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

The schools have an all-time high public approval rating. The 51% assigning an A or B to schools marks the first time a majority of the public has given grades this high.

The 51% is an increase of 11% since 1990 and is a fitting close to a decade in which public school approval ratings climbed steadily despite what might reasonably be described as less than favorable media coverage.

Support among parents who have children in public schools jumped even higher, with 68% giving As and Bs to schools attended by their oldest child.

Support for the use of public funds for parents and students to use in attending private and church-related schools is only 34%. Some polls have it as low as 22%.

Voucher advocates took it on the chin in a new US General Accounting office report that concludes that research doesn't provide a definitive answer on whether publicly financed tuition vouchers raised student achievement.

The GAO report, "School Vouchers: Publicly Funded Programs in Cleveland and Milwaukee," reviews both research conducted by state-contracted evaluation teams and by independent researchers on the impact of the state-enacted programs on student achievement.

The state-contracted evaluations found little or no difference between the academic achievement of voucher students and public school students in the two districts.

A week before the report's release, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that challenges the inclusion of religious schools in the Cleveland voucher case.

The report points to other unknowns in how voucher programs have been implemented. It says, for instance, that it is unclear to what extent schools participating in the Cleveland and Milwaukee programs have used random selection for enrolling students because no one has monitored that aspect.

In addition, the report notes that all of the information about the test scores of Milwaukee voucher participants was collected in the program's first five years. Such information hasn't been collected in the past five years -- yet the city's voucher program has expanded greatly during that time.

Forty-four percent in the Gallup Poll believe there is just the right testing; however this group is flanked by two sizable minority groups, one of 31% believing that there is too much testing and 22% that believes there is not enough.

In what might seem to be conflicting results, the public supports the use of standardized tests for promotion and graduation decisions while still believing that the best measure of student achievement is by classroom work and homework.

Seventy-nine percent believe that black and other minority children have the same educational opportunities as whites. Still, 48% believe whites out-perform black and Hispanic students. And, in another interesting turn, the public sees this gap as related to factors other than schooling but still believe. that closing the gap is the school's responsibility.

"Reforms" favored by most respondents included higher spending, particularly to raise teacher pay or to inject extra funds into falling schools.

The public says the biggest problems facing schools are lack of funding and lack of discipline.

The public is becoming increasingly skeptical of for-profit management of public schools, or having a school board contract with local businesses or private companies to run the entire school operation. The percentage opposing this practice stood at 59% in 1996 but has risen to 72%.

Don't try getting this improved report card story from your local media. [In Oklahoma] they prefer quoting the extremist Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and similar public school bashers.

The public is cooling to the idea of school vouchers; 34% favor allowing families to choose to attend a private school at public expense, a drop of 5 percentage points since last year and 10 points from the 1997 and 1998 highs of 44%.

The public is skeptical about computer instruction; 67% disapprove of allowing students to earn high school credits over the Internet without attending a regular school.

(Ex-Education Secretary William Bennett launched an Internet high school that appears to be flopping.)

Public opposition to having private companies run entire schools hits former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander, who is financially invested in the privatization of public schools.

Most members of the public want public schools to be better funded. That thumps Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige, a non-educator prancing across the country claiming more money is not the answer -- yet US teacher salaries rank 22nd among the 30 industrial nations of the world.

The public wants the present system to be reformed instead of developing alternatives such as vouchers, a hard slap at George W. Bush, who fought to promote voucher funding this year and was knocked down by a bipartisan majority in Congress.

The public is of two minds about testing: While there is lukewarm support for Bush's new education program, including supporting the increased use of standardized tests and supporting holding schools accountable, the public is divided over the question about whether there is too much emphasis on tests.

The public supports providing more funds for schools that do not show progress toward state standards. Bush will stop their funding.

The poll found 73% believe the achievement gap between white and minority students is related to factors other than schooling. Studies show poverty is the main contributor to the dropout rate.

The public is concerned about the teacher shortage but 82% reject lowering state requirements for teacher training; 67% oppose permitting persons with bachelors degrees to become teachers without preparation in teacher education.

Frosty Troy is editor of the Oklahoma Observer, where this originally appeared. Contact him at (405) 525-5582 or email

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