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Since 1973, Americans' confidence in public schools has declined sharply. Back then, 58 percent had “a great deal� or “quite a lot� of confidence in public schools; by 1999, this had fallen to 36 percent, according to the Gallup Organization.

Each year, a new hot-button issue in education seems to make news. In 1998, proposals for bilingual instruction prompted much debate; the following year, school vouchers became a major concern. Other disputed topics in K-12 education circles include whole language versus phonics, the merits of homeschooling, the growth of for-profit public schools, the potential benefits of charter and alternative schools, the extent and source of funding for public schools, and the focus on nationwide standards and testing.

By and large, Americans want more attention paid to schools, and more money budgeted for them. In a March/April 2001 ABC News/Washington Post poll, 65 percent said federal spending on education should be increased and only 8 percent said it should be decreased. A 2000 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll listed Americans' top concerns with public schools in their community as follows: a lack of financial support/funding (18 percent said this was the biggest problem), a lack of discipline (16 percent), overcrowded classrooms (12 percent), fighting/violence/gangs (11 percent), use of drugs (9 percent) and concern about standards/quality (5 percent). Also among the complaints: a lack of parental interest and support, low pay for teachers, difficulty in obtaining good teachers and not having enough teachers.

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