50 Years of American Voices


Stanley M. Elam

The 22nd annual Gallup Poll
of the Public’s Attitudes
Toward the Public Schools

“People strongly believe in the six education goals for the ‘90s announced last February, with appropriate fanfare, by President George Bush and the 50 state governors. They believe in them so strongly that they would like to vote for political candidates who support these goals. But people are also profoundly skeptical about the possibility that the goals can be reached within this decade, which was part of the plan put forth by the president and the governors.

“More than three-quarters of the 1,594 adults interviewed for the poll attach very high or high priority to all six of the national goals for education. They give highest priority to the last goal: to free every school in America from drugs and violence and offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning. But only 5% of the respondents think it very likely that we will achieve this goal by the year 2000, and 36% think it very unlikely that we will. The only goal among the six that even 50% of the people think we might reach in this decade is that of readying children to learn by the time they start school.”

What was happening in American education?

1990: President George H.W. Bush announces the country’s six new National Education Goals, which will be achieved by 2000 and creates the National Education Goals Panel to monitor this work:

1. All children will start school ready to learn.

2. The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90%.

3. All students will become competent in challenging subject matter.

4. Teachers will have the knowledge and skills that they need.

5. U.S. students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.

6. Every adult American will be literate.

7. Schools will be safe, disciplined, and free of guns, drugs, and alcohol.

8. Schools will promote parental involvement and participation.

1990 IDEA logo

(Department of Education)

Oct. 30, 1990: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities.

Nov. 29, 1990: The Gun-Free School Zones Act prohibits the possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a public, parochial, or private school.

1990: The Sandia Report refutes claims made by A Nation at Risk.

June 4, 1990: In Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that public schools that allow student-interest clubs cannot exclude religious clubs or political clubs. The court says that allowing students to discuss religion after school does not amount to state sponsorship of religion.

Summer 1990: Teach For America begins with 489 teachers working in six regions.

September 1990: Minnesota allows any parent to send their children to public schools outside their own district and schools must enroll students from outside their district boundaries. Under the program, state aid follows the students to the district where the student attends school.

Fall 1990: The first students use vouchers to enroll in a private Milwaukee school.To qualify, students must reside within the city of Milwaukee and have a family income less than 175% of the federal poverty level.

1990: Channel One News, a daily television news program for young people, debuts in many schools across the United States. The program, which includes commercials, is controversial because it is shown to students while they are in class.

Dec. 17, 1990: President Bush names Lamar Alexander as U.S. Secretary of Education, replacing Lauro Cavazos, who resigned.

What else was happening in the United States?

June 11, 1990: In United States v. Eichman, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Flag Protection Act, ruling again that the government's interest in preserving the flag as a symbol does not outweigh the individual's First Amendment right to disparage that symbol through expressive conduct.

June 20-30, 1990: Nelson Mandela tours the United States.

Aug. 2, 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait, which eventually leads to the Gulf War.

1990 Gulf War Ap 9012071479 Use

A U.S. Marine dashes into the Saudi Arabian desert carrying a grenade launcher during offensive exercises Dec. 7, 1990. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Share “1990”:


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?