American parents are most worried about two school problems: violence and gangs, and lack of discipline, a Gallup Poll said Thursday.
The two problems were listed first by 18 percent of 1,326 adults surveyed in the poll conducted for the 26th year for Phi Delta Kappa, an international professional fraternity for men and women in education.Close behind, when people were asked the biggest problems with which their public schools must deal, were lack of proper financial support, drug abuse and standards or quality of education. In the 1993 poll, lack of financial support was listed first.
Among nonwhite adults, fighting, violence and gangs assumed far greater importance, with 31 percent voting it the No. 1 problem.
Education Secretary Richard W. Riley saw in the poll a message to Congress "to free the crime bill and stop dillydallying around." The legislation makes money available to fight gang problems and sends a signal that "America will not tolerate criminal behavior," he said.
"Learning is compromised in schools that are not safe; our children deserve an education that is not compromised," he said.
The poll found that the public blames the perceived increase in public school violence on factors over which schools have little control: increased use of drugs and alcohol, growth of youth gangs, easy availability of weapons, the breakdown in the American family, schools lacking discipline authority they once had; and increased portrayal of violence in media.
The poll said 86 percent of those surveyed thought the most effective measure to reduce violence in the public schools was stronger penalties for student possession of weapons.
By lesser percentages, the survey rated in descending order: training for school staffs, more vocational or job training, drug and alcohol abuse programs, values and ethnic education and education to reduce racial and ethnic tensions.
People had the most praise for the school attended by their oldest child - 70 percent gave it an A or a B, and 92 percent gave it a passing grade. But for the nation's schools as a whole, 22 percent thought schools deserved the two top grades while almost half awarded a C.
Eighty-two percent of the adults thought schools should put more emphasis on mathematics. They also thought more emphasis should be put on English (79 percent), science (75 percent), history-U.S. government (62 percent), geography (61 percent), and foreign language (52 percent). Some 31 percent thought there should be more emphasis on music, and 29 percent on art and nearly half thought there should be less emphasis on these two subjects.