50 Years of American Voices


Lowell C. Rose and Alec M. Gallup

The 36th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools

“The federal No Child Left Behind Act dominates the public education scene. It is inextricably linked to the effort to improve overall student achievement while simultaneously moving to close the achievement gap. Closely tied to this effort is the debate over the appropriate role of standardized testing.

“The poll addresses these issues against the background of the public’s assessment of the public schools.”

The authors of the poll identified several conclusions regarding the poll’s most significant findings. Among them:

  • The trend line showing that the public gives reasonably high marks to the public schools continues.
  • Lack of financial support is now firmly established in the public’s mind as the major problem facing the public schools.
  • As it has indicated in every poll since 1999, the public expects change in the public schools to come through reforming the existing system, not through seeking an alternative.
  • The public disagrees with the major strategies NCLB uses to determine whether a school is or is not in need of improvement.
  • The public does not support the separate reporting of test data mandated by NCLB and does not support including special education students on the same basis as all other students.
  • The public is divided regarding the use of standardized tests for high-stakes purposes.
  • The public believes strongly that the achievement gaps that separate white students from black and other minority students must be closed.
  • Allowing parents to choose a private school for their child to attend at public expense continues to lack majority support.

What was happening in American education?

2004: Congress creates the Opportunity Scholarship Program to provide $7,500 vouchers that enable low-income students in Washington, D.C., to attend private schools, with priority to those attending low-performing public schools.

February 2004: Education Secretary Rod Paige calls the National Education Association “a terrorist organization” because of its resistance to many of the provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Feb. 10, 2004: The Utah legislature votes to prohibit the state’s education authorities from using any local funds to comply with No Child Left Behind.

March 15, 2004: The U.S. Department of Education, feeling the heat from intense criticism of No Child Left Behind, eases some of the law’s requirements concerning highly qualified teachers.

March 24, 2004: Fourteen states petition the U.S. Department of Education for permission to use alternative methods to show academic gains under No Child Left Behind.

Aug. 16, 2004: In the first national comparison of test scores released by the U.S. Department of Education, children in charter schools are shown to be doing worse than comparable students in traditional public schools.

November 2004: Margaret Spellings is named U.S. Secretary of Education, following Rod Paige’s decision to resign from that position. Spellings had been President George W. Bush’s chief domestic policy advisor and was often cited as one of the architects of NCLB.

What else was happening in the United States?

2004  Facebook Logo  Blue 600

Feb. 4, 2004: Facebook begins as a Harvard University-only social network.

Feb. 11, 2004: The CIA admits that there was no imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the U.S.-led coalition invaded the country in 2003.

May 6, 2004: NBC airs the final episode of “Friends.”

May 17, 2004: In Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules that allowing only opposite-sex couples to marry violates the state’s constitution, which opens the way for Massachusetts to become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

June 5, 2004: Former President Ronald Reagan dies.

Sept 13, 2004: The 10-year federal ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and "large-capacity" ammunition magazines expires.

2004  Guns Istock831433616  Use

(Thinkstock photo)

Nov. 2, 2004: George W. Bush is elected to his second term as president of the United States.

Share “2004”:


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?