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No Child Left Behind Rated More Negatively Than Positively

No Child Left Behind Rated More Negatively Than Positively

Lower-income Americans show the most support, while partisans share negative view

PRINCETON, NJ -- More Americans think the No Child Left Behind Act, which has governed federal education grants to public schools for a decade, has made education worse rather than better, by 29% to 16%. Thirty-eight percent say NCLB hasn't made much of a difference, while 17% are not familiar enough with the law to rate it.

Trend: U.S. Views on No Child Left Behind Act

The latest results are based on Gallup's annual Work and Education poll, conducted Aug. 9-12. Current views are similar to those from August 2009, when Gallup previously asked this.

Those most likely to have personal insights into how NCLB is playing out in their local schools -- parents of children in kindergarten through grade 12 -- have about the same views on the law as adults without a child in school. Also, perhaps reflecting the broad bipartisan support for NCLB in Congress when it was created, there is no meaningful difference in the public's views of the law by party.

Adults in households earning less than $30,000 a year (22%) are more likely than those in higher-income households (15%) to believe the law has made public education better. In fact, similar to Gallup's findings in 2009, lower-income Americans' views on NCLB are evenly divided, while middle- and upper-income Americans' views are more negative than positive.

U.S. Views on No Child Left Behind Act -- by Key Subgroups

Although proposed by George W. Bush in 2001 and cosponsored by prominent Republican and Democratic lawmakers -- including Republican Rep. John Boehner and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy -- the No Child Left Behind Act has sparked harsh criticism from the political left and right for 10 years. Now, with Republicans and Democrats in Congress unable to agree on terms to extend it, the U.S. Department of Education has excused half of the states from the NCLB mandate to make all students proficient in reading and math by 2014, with 11 more waivers under consideration.

In what could, thus, be the last year that NCLB has much influence on public education, relatively few Americans say they are "very familiar" with the law, but 48% consider themselves "somewhat familiar," and another 20% are "not too familiar." Just 14% say they are not at all familiar or are unsure.

Familiarity With No Child Left Behind Act

Attitudes toward NCLB are more negative than positive regardless of one's familiarity with the law. Among those very familiar with it, 28% say it has made education better and 48% worse. The figures are 19% vs. 32%, respectively, for those who are somewhat familiar with it, and 10% vs. 24% among those not too familiar.

Bottom Line

After 10 years of debate and seeing how the No Child Left Behind Act works in practice, Americans are slightly more negative than positive about its effect on public education, while the majority either say it has not made much difference, are unsure, or aren't familiar enough with the law to rate it. Such ambivalence probably gives the Obama administration broad political latitude to modify NCLB through executive fiats, such as the recent decision to grant states waivers from meeting the law's key benchmarks. Indeed, that approach is generally consistent with Americans' preference to either eliminate the law or keep it with major revisions, as Gallup found in January 2011. Relatively few Americans at that time, 21%, favored maintaining the law in its original form.

One cautionary note to those seeking to dismantle NCLB could be that lower-income Americans show more support for the law than middle- or upper-income Americans do -- although even lower-income Americans are divided in their views of it.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 9-12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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