50 Years of American Voices


George H. Gallup

The 15th annual Gallup Poll
of the Public’s Attitudes
Toward the Public Schools

“When citizens included in this year's survey were asked about their involvement with the local schools, their answers indicated that the schools nationally are failing to reach a large segment of the adult population. In fact, more than half of those with no children in schools say that they have had no direct contact or relationship with their local schools since the opening of school last September (the question was asked in May). This may help explain why more than 40% — in answer to another question — said that they know little or nothing about the local schools.”

What was happening in American education?

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April 1983: "A Nation at Risk" claims that American education is failing and proposes several remedies: more accountability, standardization, longer school days and school year, higher graduation requirements, and more time for math, science, & technology. In perhaps the most quoted sentences of the report, the authors wrote “... the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people …. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

How did Americans grade their local schools? Find out here.

1983: Howard Gardner’s book, "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences," is published, introducing the concept that there are different types of intelligences that are overlooked by traditional education and standard testing protocols.

1983: A Congressional task force on merit pay supports and encourages experimentation with merit pay for teachers. The U.S. Department of Education responds by allocating more than $2.5 million to fund compensation reform efforts in 37 states.

What else was happening in the United States?

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A CBS Television ad in the Feb. 26, 1983, issue of TV Guide magazine promotes the final episode of M*A*S*H, which broadcast Feb. 28, 1983. (Getty Images)

1983: Chrysler Corp. introduces the minivan, which changes the way that American families travel.

Feb. 28, 1983: The final episode of "M*A*S*H" airs.

1983: McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets become available nationwide.

March 25, 1983: Michael Jackson introduces the moonwalk during a celebration of Motown music.

Sept. 17, 1983: Vanessa Williams becomes the first black woman to be crowned Miss America.

Nov. 2, 1983: President Ronald Reagan signs bill to designating the third Monday of January as a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. The first such day will be observed in 1986.

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President Ronald Reagan speaks about the newly designated holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as Vice President George H.W. Bush (left) and King's widow, Coretta Scott King, listen Nov. 2, 1983, in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images/David Hume Kennerly)

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We welcome your conversation about the poll results and the other information we’ve assembled here. What did we forget? What do you remember about this year? How do you think the events of this year influenced the responses to our questions?