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WHAT AMERICANS THINK ABOUT THEIR SCHOOLS: Americans Support Additional Education Spending but Are Also “Searching for Something that Works,” According to New Poll

“If the public is given the option of supporting the law with minor changes rather than simply being asked whether the law should be renewed, changed, or canceled, the level of support jumps significantly.”

More than half of Americans (51 percent) believe that government funding for schools should increase, even though such an increase could lead to higher taxes, according to a new poll from the Program on Education Policy and Governance’s Education Next at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. The poll, What Americans Think About Their Schools, finds that even more people (59 percent) are confident that additional funding for education would translate into higher student achievement.

The poll also finds that more than half of Americans (57 percent) support the renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) as is or with only minor changes. However, support among current or former public school employees is much lower, with only 42 percent saying that they support the law’s renewal as is or with only minor changes. Eighteen percent of Americans surveyed said that Congress should not renew the law at all.

According to Paul E. Peterson, a professor of government at Harvard University and editor in chief of Education Next, people’s opinion of NCLB depends on the way the question is worded. “If the public is given the option of supporting the law with minor changes rather than simply being asked whether the law should be renewed, changed, or canceled, the level of support jumps significantly,” he said.

Americans were also asked their opinions on national standards and exit exams. Nearly three quarters of those surveyed supported a single national standard and a single national test for all students. Even more people supported exit exams, with 85 percent saying that they either “completely support” or “somewhat support” a requirement that students pass an exam before they are eligible to receive a high school diploma.

Although less than half of the Americans surveyed supported using government funds to pay the tuition of low-income students who choose to attend private schools, the percentages of African Americans and Hispanics who support vouchers dwarfed the percentages of whites who do so. In total, 45 percent of Americans supported vouchers, with 20 percent neither favoring nor opposing, and 34 percent opposing. However, 68 percent of African Americans and 61 percent of Hispanics supported vouchers, compared to 38 percent of whites.

When asked about incentives for teachers, most surveyed Americans seemed to prefer giving raises to all teachers, rather than paying teachers more for teaching in hard-to-staff subjects such as math and science; only 33 percent said that math and science teachers should receive larger salaries. However, 53 percent of those surveyed said that teachers who teach in challenging schools, such as those in central cities, should receive a larger salary. The issue of merit pay for teachers also drew some support, but not from a majority of respondents, with 45 percent in favor, 31 percent against, and 55 percent neither in favor nor against. However, when asked whether additional spending on education should be used to decrease class size or raise teacher salaries, over three fourths (77 percent) of those surveyed favored a decrease in class size.

Survey respondents also supported a more permissive teacher recruitment policy that would allow principals to hire college graduates whom they thought would be effective in the classroom, even if those individuals did not have formal teaching credentials, with 48 percent in favor and 33 percent against.

In its conclusion, the survey notes that the American public “continues to support its public schools,” but that it also wants schools to become more effective and is willing to endorse a wide variety of reforms it thinks will bring that about. “Americans, for the most part, are pragmatists,” it reads. “They are searching for something that works. It could be accountability, it might be choice, it could be class-size reduction, and it may be changes in teacher recruitment and pay. Reform proposals in each of these areas have pluralities in support of them. In some instances, though, sizable portions of the public remain unpersuaded by advocates on either side.”

The press release and complete report are available at here.


KIDS COUNT Data Book Now Available 

On July 25, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the eighteenth annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, a national and state-by-state effort to track the health, academic, and economic status of children throughout the nation. Each year, the KIDS COUNT Data Book provides data and statistical trends on the conditions of America’s children and families, including child death rate, teen birth rate, children in poverty, and children in single-parent families. This year, the report also looks at the 726,000 children in the United States who spend time in foster care each year and what can be done to build and strengthen the family relationships that these children need.

“While keeping children safe is an essential role and responsibility of our child welfare systems, the full measure of success should be how fully the systems assure strong and safe lifelong families for every child they serve,” said Douglas W. Nelson, president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The book includes an essay titled “Lifelong Family Connections: Supporting Permanence for Children in Foster Care,” which discusses how the United States can move toward having all children who are in foster care become part of a lifelong family.

More information is available at



volleyball With schools around the country out for summer and Congress in recess until after Labor Day, the Alliance newsletter—although not the Alliance staff—will be taking a summer vacation during the month of August.The next issue of Straight A’s: Public Education Policy and Progress will be dated September 10. In the meantime, continue to check the Alliance website,, for updates on the Fourth Annual High School Policy Conference, as well as for other news and events.

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