Scripps Howard News Service
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Nearly two-thirds of American adults want Congress to re-write or outright abolish the landmark No Child Left Behind Act that mandates nationwide testing of elementary students to determine if public schools are performing adequately.
Opposition is especially high among people most familiar with the law, according to a survey of 1,010 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.
Controversy about the law has grown in recent months as Congress begins the debate on whether to reauthorize the measure that President Bush has touted is one of the most important achievements of his administration.
"The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America's children and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law," Bush urged legislators during his last State of the Union address.
But dissent against reauthorization has developed within his own party. Fifty-two Republican House members and five GOP senators are calling for a repeal of the law in favor of a more flexible system of achievement standards to be negotiated between the Department of Education and individual states.
"This expensive and largely unsuccessful legislation has broadened the scope of the federal government's role in education," Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., said while introducing his bill.
Participants in the poll were told that No Child Left Behind "requires states to test elementary students to determine if schools do a good job teaching. Critics say the law forces teachers to teach to a particular test. From everything you've heard, do you think the No Child Left Behind Act has been good for public schools or not good?"
Only about a third said they think the law has had a positive influence on public education while slightly less than half said it has had a negative impact and a fifth were undecided.
A few respondents volunteered different answers that were generally critical of the law.
"The schools should have more leeway," said the mother of two public school children from Lexington, S.C.
"It was a good theory, but the implementation has been faulty," remarked another mother with three children from Elmhurst, N.Y.
"No Child Left Behind created unfunded mandates which force teachers to teach to the test," complained a single woman from Tonopah, Nev.
"States should have more control over their education programs," said a mother from Houston, Texas.
Respondents in the poll were also asked: "Based upon everything you've heard, do you want Congress to renew the No Child Left Behind law, do you want Congress to make changes in the law or do you want Congress to cancel the No Child Left Behind law?"
Twenty-three percent said they want the law renewed in its current form, 14 percent want it abolished and 49 percent want it amended. Fourteen percent were undecided. Taken together, 63 percent want the law abolished or amended.
About three-quarters of people who said they are "very familiar" with the law also say they want it altered or abolished, compared to less than half of people who say they are "not familiar" with the measure.
Well-educated people, especially college graduates and those who've attended post-graduate schooling, are especially likely to call for changes to the law. People who have public school children at home are somewhat more likely to want the law altered or abolished than are people who don't currently have children in school.
Although much of the criticism in Congress against the current form of the law is coming from Republicans, the poll found that Democrats in the general public were more likely to want changes in the law than were Republicans.
The survey was conducted by telephone from May 6-27 among 1,010 adult residents of the United States who were selected at random. The survey was conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University under a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.
The survey has a margin of error of about 3 percent, although the margin is somewhat higher when estimating support for the No Child Left Behind Act among different subgroups.