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Americans grow skeptical as school reform takes toll

New surveys show public support for the goals - but not the effects - of No Child Left Behind Act.

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The more Americans learn about Washington's new guiding hand in the nation's schools, the less they like it.

More than two-thirds say they don't think that a single test gives a fair picture of whether a school needs improvement, according to a new poll. They also don't believe that students with disabilities should be evaluated by the same standards as other students, the poll found.

Both points are linchpins of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

In a separate survey, teachers cite compliance with new federal testing requirements as the most serious problem they face - more serious than lack of resources, incompetent administrators, student discipline, and personal safety issues.

These findings - from the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll and the National Center for Education Information - come at a critical time for NCLB, the signature domestic reform of President Bush's first term.

While the law isn't up for renewal until 2007, it has set off a backlash in many state legislatures. In response, the US Department of Education, which once claimed that no waivers would be allowed under the new law, has eased up on some requirements. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is considering further flexibility.

The Phi Delta Kappa poll, released Tuesday, is considered a bellwether of public attitudes toward schools. Over its 37 years, it has often produced anomalies. For example: While Americans think the nation's public schools are in trouble, they consistently give high marks to their own local schools. A similar rift shows up in the public views of NCLB.

"The most important finding is that the public wants the achievement gap closed, but does not approve of the strategies used in No Child Left Behind," says poll director Lowell Rose.

Support for law's goals

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