|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
USA Today 6-22-04
Parents take schools to task
It's too soon to tell whether President Bush's sweeping school reform law will improve the nation's public education system, but nearly 2½ years after Bush signed No Child Left Behind, a new survey shows that public perceptions of schools are changing — sometimes for the worse — and that education could be a powerful election-year issue.
In the survey released today by the Educational Testing Service, the world's largest private educational research organization, the nation's public schools take a bit of a beating at the hands of parents, while the general public remains largely unmoved.
The percentage of parents who give U.S. public schools a grade of A has dropped from 8% in 2001 to 2% today, and only 20% of parents give schools a B, down from 35%. Meanwhile, 45% of parents give schools a C, up from 33% in 2001.
Congress approved No Child Left Behind in 2001; Bush signed it in January 2002. The centerpiece of Bush's education agenda, it imposes strict testing requirements on public schools and demands that the number of students whose test scores show they can read and do math at grade level improve each year. If schools don't pass muster, they risk being labeled "in need of improvement."
About 32% of schools now fall into that category.
According to the new survey, public schools actually rose slightly in the eyes of adults in general since 2001; a few more adults gave schools a B and fewer gave them a C. The percentage who gave schools a D or F was unchanged. As in 2001, only 2% now give schools an A.
The survey also found that the public is split evenly on the merits of the law: 39% have a favorable opinion, 38% unfavorable.
That suggests both Bush and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry could benefit from campaigning on — or against — the law, says Les Francis, a testing service spokesman.
"The president can clearly take credit, in political terms, for having really pushed this issue further on to the national agenda and to have his bill identified with reform," he says.
For Kerry's purposes, he says, "the fact that there's a significant level of disenchantment" with the law gives Kerry a chance to "hammer away."
The favorable/unfavorable figures hold steady across political affiliations and even within battleground states, Francis says.
American adults' view of the quality of the nation's schools has changed very little over the past few years.
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