Survey: Americans Want More Education Options, Better Education Quality

Published November 1, 1997

Over 80 percent of Americans want more options and better education for their children, according to a new survey released on September 23 by the Washington, DC-based Center for Education Reform (CER). But most Americans balk at giving the federal government more power over education.

Seventy percent of respondents to the new survey said the federal government should play only a minor role, or no role at all, in making policy decisions for schools.

“This survey illustrates that a solid majority of Americans embrace education reform as a cross-cutting, mainstream issue,” said Jeanne Allen, president of CER.

The poll, commissioned by CER and conducted by International Communications Research Inc. (ICR) of Media, Pennsylvania, used three different approaches to determine Americans’ attitudes towards school choice. Survey respondents were asked to indicate their support for choice as an option for parents, as a policy prescription for failing schools, and as a mechanism for empowering poor parents to choose schools.

More than four out of five respondents–82 percent–indicated their support for providing parents with the option of sending their children to the public, private, or parochial school of their choice, rather than only to the school to which they are assigned.

Sixty-seven percent–two out of three respondents–favor legislation that would allow children in failing schools to opt out of that school and attend an alternative public, private, or parochial school selected by their parents.

Almost three out of four respondents–72 percent–support giving poor parents the tax dollars allotted for their child’s education to use as a scholarship to attend a private, public, or parochial school of their choosing.

In addition to the school choice questions, survey respondents were asked to evaluate the quality of education in America. Ninety-two percent of respondents said they felt the quality of their public school could be improved, while 78 percent said they did not think that all of America’s children, particularly those in the inner cities, were receiving the education they deserve.

Allen said the survey results “illustrate a continuing concern among Americans from all walks of life that children are not getting the education they need and that parents are not getting the options they want,” adding that the results were consistent with the results of a CER/ICR survey conducted last year. (See “Opinion Polls Show Support for School Choice,” School Reform News, January 1997.)

The new poll, the 1997 National Survey of American’s Attitudes Toward Education and School Reform, surveyed a cross-section of Americans by telephone between August 20-24, 1997. The results, based on a scientific sample of 1,003 adults, are 95 percent accurate to within +/- 3 percent.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].