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ESEA, RIGHT AWAY!: Voters Want Federal Action on High School Reform, According to New National Poll

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“The overwhelming takeaway from the poll is that Americans are concerned about the growing problems with the nation’s high schools and they want President Obama and the Congress to act—this year—to improve them.”

Improving the quality of public high schools through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is a voting issue for over eight in ten voters, according to a new bipartisan national poll from the Alliance for Excellent Education. Additionally, over half of voters say that their decision to vote for a current elected official in the 2010 congressional elections will be affected if Congress takes no action to reform the law currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

“The Alliance commissioned this bipartisan poll to gain insight into Americans’ views of the public education system,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “The overwhelming takeaway from the poll is that Americans are concerned about the growing problems with the nation’s high schools and they want President Obama and the Congress to act—this year—to improve them.”

According to the poll, voters see a clear connection between the nation’s ability to educate its students and its ability to compete in the global economy, but believe that the nation’s public high schools currently do a poor job of preparing students for success. For example, two thirds of voters believe that a high dropout rate has a significant impact on the nation’s economy (69 percent) and America’s ability to compete in the global economy (65 percent). However, nearly seven in ten voters (69 percent) say that a diploma from America’s public high schools does not prepare graduates to get a good-paying job, while less than half of voters believe that a high school diploma prepares graduates to succeed in college.

“The poor state of the economy has claimed most of the headlines going into the congressional election cycle, but, as our poll shows, voters are keenly aware of how a poor education system hampers the economy’s ability to operate at full capacity,” said Wise.

According to the poll, voters want President Obama, the U.S. Congress, and the nation’s governors to pay more attention to the nation’s public high schools. Nearly half of voters (49 percent) think President Obama is not paying enough attention to public high schools while majorities of voters say that Republicans in Congress (62 percent) and Democrats in Congress (58 percent) are not paying enough attention to the state of public high schools in the United States.

“The belief that the president and the Congress are not paying enough attention to the nation’s public high schools crosses party lines,” saidDemocratic pollster Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, one of the firms that conducted the poll. “This finding is significant during a time when large segments of the voting public are polarized going into the congressional elections.”

One way the federal government could act to improve high schools is through the reauthorization of ESEA. Overall, more than half (52 percent) of the nation’s voters believe NCLB has done a fair or poor job for public schools in their community. The demand for change to NCLB is much clearer, with over three quarters of voters wanting Congress to change NCLB to improve the quality of public high schools this year. Only 11 percent believe it should stay the way it is now.

“NCLB was groundbreaking when it was signed into law,” said Wise. “But almost ten years later it’s a compact disc in an iPod world—useful but in desperate need of an upgrade. By reauthorizing ESEA, the Congress can address the aspects of NCLB that time, experience, and research have shown need to be significantly improved or updated while doing more to help ensure that every student graduates from high school prepared for college and a career.”

According to the poll, voters overwhelmingly agree, with nearly eight in ten saying it is personally important to them that Congress change ESEA to improve the quality of public high schools and three quarters (74 percent) saying that it is important for Congress to act this year.

“Incumbents and challengers alike have been looking for an issue that speaks to both Republicans and Democrats in the upcoming congressional elections,” said Republican pollster Christine Matthews, president of Bellwether Research and Consulting. “This poll finds that solid majorities of Democrats (86 percent), Republicans (70 percent), and Independents (69 percent) say it is personally important to them for Congress to change ESEA to improve public high schools.”

Voters are clear that bipartisanship is important but should not hold up ESEA reauthorization. In fact, two thirds of voters (66 percent) would be more likely to support a candidate who calls for Democrats and Republicans to work together but add that passage of ESEA should not be delayed if both parties cannot reach agreement.

“As congressional incumbents head into the final months of their session as well as heated elections, this poll shows that the public will reward them for action while many will punish them for inaction,” said Wise.

Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting designed and administered this survey in a bipartisan manner for the Alliance for Excellent Education. The survey was conducted via telephone by professional interviewers and reached a total of one thousand likely voters nationwide. The survey was conducted June 15–23, 2010.

Download the complete summary of findings from the poll and the poll questionnaire at http://bit.ly/9cmhVM.

Esea, right away

The Alliance held on a webinar on the findings from the poll that featured Alliance President Bob Wise, as well as pollsters Celinda Lake and Christine Matthews. To watch video or download audio from the webinar, click on the image to the right.

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