PROBLEM SOLVING

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Millions of young Americans living in the nation's poorest neighborhoods will return to the classroom this month to begin yet another year in schools with substandard facilities, used textbooks and underpaid teachers. Fully 88 percent of adults agree that public education needs to be improved, according to the final American Demographics/Harris Interactive survey in our series exploring Americans' opinions on the issues of race and social mobility.

The American public overwhelmingly agrees that something needs to be done to improve the quality of education available to children, especially those in poor neighborhoods. Many people, however, regardless of race, believe that school vouchers — government subsidized payments that would cover a portion of the cost of sending a child to a private or parochial school instead of to a public school — will not do enough to solve the problem in the long term.

Just 2 in 5 Americans (40 percent) say that school vouchers are the best way to improve the education offered to the majority of students in the U.S. (The survey did not ask respondents to opine on other possible solutions to the problem.)

Not surprisingly, the most ardent supporters of school vouchers are from minority groups, who are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods with subpar public school systems. In fact, 54 percent of Hispanics and 47 percent of blacks believe that the use of vouchers will improve the quality of education delivered to the majority of students nationwide, compared with 39 percent of whites.

Nevertheless, a majority of Americans, even members of minority groups, believe that vouchers alone will not solve the problem. According to the American Demographics/Harris Interactive survey, 69 percent of whites, 71 percent of Hispanics and 72 percent of blacks agree that vouchers will not be enough to improve the quality of education available to the poor. And nearly as many people (60 percent of whites, 62 percent of Hispanics and 70 percent of blacks) say that school voucher programs to send kids to private school should be implemented only temporarily while we search for solutions that would allow children to remain in public school without sacrificing their education.

The nationally representative survey, conducted exclusively for American Demographics by Rochester, N.Y.-based market research firm Harris Interactive, was fielded February 13-27, 2002, and included both the online and telephone responses of 3,052 adults.


For more information on American attitudes towards education reform, please turn to Pulse, on page 20.

IT'S NOT JUST THE UNIFORMS

Men, regardless of race, are more likely than women to strongly agree that private schools have an institutional edge ????over their public counterparts.

PERCENT WHO AGREE THAT PRIVATE SCHOOLS PROVIDE A SUPERIOR EDUCATION WHEN COMPARED WITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS:

WHITE BLACK HISPANIC
ALL MALE FEMALE MALE FEMALE MALE FEMALE
Agree 67% 70% 65% 67% 68% 72% 62%
Strongly agree 32% 35% 28% 48% 21% 39% 44%
Somewhat agree 35% 35% 37% 19% 46% 29% 28%
Disagree 31% 29% 32% 29% 27% 32% 19%
Strongly disagree 11% 9% 12% 12% 17% 15% 8%
Somewhat disagree 20% 21% 20% 17% 9% 17% 11%
Source: American Demographics/Harris Interactive
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