NCLB Polls: The More People Know, the More They Want Change

K-12 Testing


FairTest Examiner - October 2007



New reports from two reputable sources of nationwide public opinion data - Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup and Public Education Network -- underscore steadily growing support for a fundamental overhaul of the controversial "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) law.

A recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll shows that the more people know about NCLB, the more they want to change it. According to the poll, less than a third of the nation now believes NCLB is helping improve the performance of public schools. Another report, from the Public Education Network, adds depth and detail to the PDK results. PEN compiled the results of a series of public forums and hearings that featured testimony enumerating NCLB's flaws and shortcomings.

Taken together, the two document deep public dissatisfaction with NCLB's overreliance on standardized testing and the law's failure to address schools' inequities and frequent lack of capacity to make needed improvements.


  • In the PDK/Gallup poll more than half of public school parents say there is "too much emphasis" on standardized exams. Three-quarters agree that schools now "teach to the tests." Fifty-two percent said NCLB is causing narrowing of the curriculum (36% did not). Of those who see the narrowing, 93% express concern about a "reduced emphasis on the teaching of science, health, social studies and the arts."
  • PEN's public forums concluded, "NCLB rests on a faulty measurement capacity. The quality and reliability of tests need improvement. In addition, the public wants a broader purpose for assessment systems." PEN reports the public wants to assess student and school achievement in a variety of areas. Those who testified said schools need to foster citizenship and nurture in students the "soft skills" valued by employers and colleges. Schools should develop all kinds of talents, from technical to artistic.
  • The PDK/Gallup poll reports that 82% of respondents favor rating schools based on "improvement shown by the students," not just "percentage passing the test."
  • PEN reports: "The lack of recognition for growth discourages educators, students and parents. Testing policies for the disabled and limited-English speaking students make no sense to either educators or parents." PEN noted other problems with NCLB including a "mushrooming" of annual testing to the extent that testing companies cannot perform adequately.
Gamesmanship and lowered standards have resulted from the law's poorly thought-out design. PEN adds, "These actions have reached the point where it is almost impossible to determine causal relationships between NCLB and academic progress by students."
Both the PDK poll and the PEN report echo many of the recommendations in the FairTest-convened Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB. The PEN report demonstrates that much of the damage predicted in FairTest's 2004 report on NCLB, Failing Our Children, has occurred, including narrowed curriculum and lowered standards.
A survey from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills lends support to the other poll results, though it did not ask directly about NLCB. Respondents strongly indicated they wanted schools to teach far more than just "the basics." They expect, but think schools do not adequately provide, critical thinking, creativity, lifelong learning, peer collaboration, written and oral communications - all the sorts of things that NLCB has undermined.
The PDK report is available at
The PEN report, Open to the Public, is at
The Partnership survey, as a Powerpoint, is at