50 Years of American Voices


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

The 28th annual PDK/Gallup Poll
of the Public’s Attitudes Toward
the Public Schools

“Private schools and vouchers. Are these the magic bullets to transform — or annihilate — what some critics say is a monopolistic, bureaucratic, and ineffective public school system in America? The people do not think so. . . . No matter how the question is asked, people oppose using tax money to support nonpublic schools. They also reject privatization of the basic instructional function of the schools, though they approve privatizing such ancillary services as transportation and maintenance. Moreover, the public flatly rejects the idea that the public schools should be replaced by a system of private and/or church-related schools.

“While the public rates the local public schools as substantially less successful than their nonpublic counterparts, those closest to the situation — the parents of public school children — rate the public schools in their communities slightly higher than they rate the nonpublic ones.

“Americans also believe that government and school leaders are committed to school improvement. This is especially true, they think, of public school teachers.”

What was happening in American education?

March 1996: The second National Education Summit convenes governors, corporate leaders, and education experts to develop strategies for rigorous standards for U.S. schools.

March 1996: The National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association jointly publish the Standards for the English Language Arts. The standards were quickly swept up in a debate between conservatives and progressives about the best way to teach children to read.

1996 What Matters Cov Ok

September 1996: The National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future publishes What Matters Most: Teaching and America’s Future, which recommends improving teaching quality as the best path for improving student learning and says all students should have high-quality teachers by 2006. The report recommends standards for teaching and higher requirements for becoming a teacher.

September 1996: Presidential advisory commission says Hispanics are denied equal educational access.

Nov. 5, 1996: California voters approve Proposition 209, which outlaws affirmative action in public employment, public contracting, and public education. Other states follow by introducing their own initiatives.

1996 Timeline MAIN photo Ap 96102304191 Use 1

Los Angeles Police officers form a line to keep UCLA students from walking onto Wilshire Boulevard during an anti-ballot Proposition 209 protest in front of the Federal Building in the Westwood section of Los Angeles, Oct. 23, 1996. (AP Photo/Frank Wiese)

What else was happening in the United States?

April 3, 1996: Suspected "Unabomber" Theodore Kazynski is arrested at his Montana cabin, ending a 17-year reign of terror in which he mailed or hand-delivered a series of increasingly sophisticated bombs that killed three Americans and injured 24 more.

May 20, 1996: In Romer v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a Colorado voter initiative that would have stripped lesbians and gay men of civil rights protection.

Nov. 5, 1996: President William J. Clinton is elected to a second term as president of the United States.

Share “1996”:


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?