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AMERICANS SPEAK ON EDUCATION: Public Credits Education System for U.S. Success in the World, but Worries About Future Unless Changes are Made in High Schools

One-third of the American public believes the country’s “public education system that offers everyone a chance to learn” is most responsible for the nation’s success in the world, but two-thirds believe that America’s ability to compete will be threatened if American high schools do not improve in the next twenty-five years.

According to preliminary poll results from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), Americans’ regard for the importance of the public education system as a reason for international stature was higher than for America’s democratic system of government (31 percent) or its military strength and international presence (11 percent). But when asked their feelings on the effectiveness of American high schools, 76 percent expressed concern. In fact, 43 percent of respondents thought that if high schools do not improve over the next twenty-five years it would have a “very negative effect” on America’s ability to compete in the world, and 33 percent of respondents said that no improvement would have a “somewhat negative effect.”

These fears for the future are grounded in the reality of today. According to the Third International Math and Science Study, American fourth-graders are near the top in international comparisons when it comes to math and science, but by the 12th grade American students are near the bottom. In the Program for International Student Assessment, which compares international results in science and math every three years, the U.S. ranked 24th out of the 29 countries that were included in the survey. Additionally, after leading the world for decades, the United States now ranks 17th internationally in high school completion rates.

According to other results from the ETS survey, only 9 percent of Americans overall and 12 percent of teachers believe that high school students are “significantly challenged,” and 30 percent of the public thinks that high school students are not challenged. When asked about the No Child Left Behind Act, 45 percent of all adults and 46 percent of K-12 parents had a favorable view the legislation-a sharp contrast to the 75 percent of high school teachers who hold an unfavorable opinion of the law.

These preliminary results are from a larger study, Americans Speak on Education, which will be released in mid-June and will provide more detail about how America’s parents, teachers, and school administrators view the nation’s education system and its high schools. The survey was based on key findings among 1,009 adults nationwide, plus an additional 180 parents of K-12 students, 150 parents of high school students, 300 high school administrators, and 300 high school teachers.

Highlights of the preliminary tracking data are available at

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