50 Years of American Voices


Alec M. Gallup and Stanley M. Elam

The 20th annual Gallup Poll
of the Public’s Attitudes
Toward the Public Schools

“On four occasions, Gallup interviewers have asked respondents to assess factors that will determine America’s future strength. In each case, they have overwhelmingly pointed to a good educational system as the main source of the nation’s future strength. The following figures speak for themselves:

“In determining America's strength in the future, say, 25 years from now, how important do you feel each of the following factors will be — very important, fairly important, not too important, or not at all important?

“Developing the best educational system in the world — very important, 88%

"Developing the most efficient industrial production system in the world — very important, 65%

"Building the strongest military force in the world — very important, 47%.”

What was happening in American education?

Jan. 13, 1988: In Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that school administrators can exercise prior restraint in editing content of student newspapers.

March 31, 1988: American Federation of Teachers president Al Shanker proposes charter schools in the United States.

1988 Cavazos Copyright

Lauro Cavazos.

May 1988: Minnesota becomes the first state to adopt an open enrollment policy, which requires districts to enroll students from outside their boundaries and allows parents to send their children to public schools outside their own district. Under the program, state aid follows the student to the district where the student attends school.

September 1988: Lauro Cavazos, president of Texas Tech University, becomes U.S. Secretary of Education, the first Hispanic Cabinet member.

July 1988: The New Jersey Department of Education takes the first steps to take over the Jersey City Public Schools because of “deep-rooted and endemic'' problems, including poor educational quality, political patronage and fiscal mismanagement.

1988: The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) convenes a panel on moral education, which urges public schools to teach values.

1988: The movie “Stand and Deliver” tells the story of Los Angeles high school math teacher Jaime Escalante. Escalante champions his Hispanic students and pushes them to academic excellence in spite of overt cynicism by other teachers and allegations of cheating by the Educational Testing Service.

What else was happening in the United States?

Nov. 8, 1988: George H.W. Bush is elected president of the United States.

Nov. 18, 1988: President Ronald Reagan signs a bill providing for the death penalty for drug traffickers who also commit murders.

Dec. 21, 1988: A bomb destroys Pan Am Flight 103 as it flies over Lockerbie, Scotland, United Kingdom, killing 270 people, including 190 U.S. citizens.

1988 Lockerbie crash Ap 8812260167 Use

Two policemen stand guard over the nose section of the crashed Pan-Am jet in Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 26, 1988. (AP Photo)

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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?