Public Release: 

New UNC-CH Poll: Southerners Feel Schools Should Require More Work, Increase Discipline

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--Over time, Southerners' views on some education issues have remained stable, while others have changed dramatically, according to a new study.

The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, showed 63 percent of Southerners felt satisfied with children's education today, the same as in 1963.

"Our results showed that while 73 percent of all parents are satisfied, only 34 percent of non-parents are," said Dr. Beverly Wiggins, director of research development at UNC-CH's Institute for Research in Social Science. "At the same time, the percentage of adults who feel that children today are being educated better than they were has declined from 63 percent in 1948 to 50 percent in 1998.

"In light of the high level of satisfaction with education in 1998, this decline is puzzling," she said. "It most likely reflects inferior educational opportunities for adults questioned in 1948 but also could result from a nostalgic view of the past among those questioned in 1998."

Wiggins and colleagues asked questions about education in UNC-CH's Spring 1998 Southern Focus Poll and compared responses to similar surveys conducted decades earlier. The Southern Regional Education Board commissioned the work, which the UNC Center for the Study of the American South and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper co-sponsored.

"Southerners consistently have criticized public schools for demanding too little work from students, and the data suggest that this concern is heightened today," Wiggins said. "While 35 percent of respondents in a 1958 study volunteered that the amount of work demanded of students was 'about right,' only 10 percent of the 1998 respondents agreed."

When asked about homework, a third of Southerners said high school students should be given more, compared to 28 percent questioned in 1955. Now, 42 percent favor increasing the number of school days for high-schoolers compared with 27 percent in 1961. More than a third think the academic year should be lengthened for elementary school children as well.

"Attitudes about discipline have changed dramatically in the South," Wiggins said. "In 1998, 76 percent of respondents said that public school discipline is 'not strict enough.' Only 41 percent in 1954 felt that discipline was inadequate."

Other Findings Were That:

  • In 1954, 62 percent said reading was more important than other subjects, compared to 89 percent in 1998.

  • Support for keeping back pupils who failed most of their subjects jumped from 77 percent in 1954 to 90 percent this year.

  • Those favoring a national examination before students' receive high school diplomas rose from about 50 percent in 1958 to 74 percent in 1998.

Interviewers spoke by telephone in March with random samples of 841 adult Southerners and 413 non-Southerners. For poll purposes, the South consisted of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. The new poll's margin of error is 3.5 percent.

Note: Wiggins can be reached at (919) 966-2350. She said results from education questions included in the poll have not appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution yet.

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