by Edd Doerr
Missing from the major media this past week was any mention of the results of the 43rd annual Gallup poll on public opinion on educational issues, released in mid-August. The entire poll, involving 41 separate questions, may be accessed by Googling to Phi Delta Kappa, the sponsor of this excellent poll these past 43 years. Here are the highlights ---
By 65% to 34% Americans are opposed to diversion of public funds to private schools, which, the poll question did not say, are predominantly religious and sectarian. This percentage is almost exactly the same as the average percentage by which tens of millions of Americans have defeated school voucher and all similar schemes in over two dozen statewide referenda fr0m coast to coast.
Asked to give a letter grade to public schools, only 17% gave an A or B to public schools nationally, but 51 % of the same sampling gave an A or B grade to the schools in their community and 71% gave an A or B to the public schools attended by their oldest child. What accounts for this wild discrepancy? Not hard to figure out. Gallup found that 68% had seen media stories dumping on public schools, compared to fewer than half of that for stories favoring public schools. And conservative media have engaged in systematic attacks on public education. People give a higher rating to the schools they know rather than the schools farther away that are the subject of media badmouthing.
Asked to say whether they approved or disapprove of PS teachers, 69% approve of teachers, 54% approve of school principals, 37% approve of school boards (remember that Pat Roberson's stooge Ralph Reed stressed the importance of fundamentalists and conservatives gaining control of local school boards?), and only 36% approve of the parents who send their kids to public schools. This is an answer of sorts to the Michelle Rhees and others in the "blame the teacher" crowd.
By 74% to 25% respondents said that public schools are underfunded, while 36% rate underfunding as the schools single most serious problem, the next most serious problem being school overcrowding, rated so by 6%.
With Republican governors and legislatures going all out this year to slash public school funding and to divert public funds to religious and other private schools (viz. Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Arizona, etc), it should be clear that one of the top priorities of humanists and everyone else in the American mainstream should be to stop this massive assault on one of our country's most important democratic institutions, not to mention our "sacred", if you will, principle of separation of church and state.
(By the way, let me suggest that you check out my Americans for Religious Liberty web site -- arlinc.org -- thirty years of stuff on a central humanist area of concern.)