50 Years of American Voices


Stanley M. Elam, Lowell C. Rose, and Alec M. Gallup

The 24th annual Gallup/PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools

“The 24th Annual Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa education poll offers a picture of a public that wants improvement in its public schools and that has little faith in its elected leaders to bring this improvement about. However, a careful reading of the results of the poll will provide some comfort to those who believe the public schools are better than they are given credit for being.

“The purpose of a public opinion poll is to determine what the public thinks, not to judge the rightness or wrongness of the public's views. Those who use the poll determine the significance of the data. We read the results of this poll as showing that the public is reasonably well-informed about its schools, wants to see those schools improve, and is willing to provide the support to bring improvement about. This interpretation suggests that what American education faces today is not a failure of public will but a failure of leadership.”

What was going on in American education?

Jan. 24, 1992: The National Council on Education Standards and Testing publishes Raising Standards for American Education, which finds that the absence of explicit national standards linked to world-class levels of performance severely hampers the ability to monitor the nation's progress toward the six national education goals. The council says that the absence of well-defined and demanding standards means American education has gravitated toward "de facto" national minimum expectations, with curricula focusing on low-level reading and arithmetic skills and on small amounts of factual material in other content areas.

March 11, 1992: Tennessee’s new statewide school reform package includes the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), a controversial accountability scheme intended to measure the effectiveness of teachers by examining student test scores.

1992 Lee v Weisman SC case

Credit: Thinkstock

June 24, 1992: In Lee v. Weisman, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that schools may not promote religious exercises, either directly or indirectly by including an invited guest, such as a minister, at graduation ceremonies.

July 1992: City Academy high school is Minneapolis opens as the nation’s first charter school.

September 1992: Baltimore., Md., becomes the first large urban school district to hire a private company, Education Alternatives Inc., to manage some of its schools.

What else was going on in the United States?

April-May 1992: Los Angeles erupts after a jury acquits four police officers in the beating of Rodney King. During the six days of rioting, 63 people were killed, 2,383 people were injured, and more than 12,000 were arrested.

1992 Ruby Ridge Ap 9208260555

Weapons confiscated in Naples, Idaho, during the Ruby Ridge standoff Aug. 26, 1992. (AP Photo/Mason Marsh)

August 1992: The 11-day siege at Ruby Ridge, a standoff between right-wing fundamentalists and the federal government, draws national media attention.

1992: Billionaire Ross Perot enters the presidential race as an independent candidate, at times leading in public opinion polls and eventually earning nearly 20% of the overall vote but no Electoral College votes.

Nov. 3, 1992: William J. Clinton is elected president of the United States.

1992 Clinton Election

President-elect Bill Clinton, third from left, is joined by Vice President-elect Al Gore Jr. and their families in front of the Old State House in Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 3, 1992, after winning the presidential election. Left is Chelsea and Hillary Clinton. Right is Tipper Gore and Albert Gore, III. (AP Photo/Susan Ragan)

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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?