CBS Poll: Alternative Schools

Whether they are parents themselves or not, Americans identify a clear need for measures that deal with disruptive or problem students in schools.

When respondents in a CBS News poll were asked to name the biggest problem facing schools today, discipline emerged as the top response, with 21 percent of Americans citing it, ahead of the quality of education (17 percent) or teachers (15 percent).

One option for dealing with students who are discipline problems is to create alternative schools or programs designed specifically to address the needs of children with emotional and behavioral problems. It is an option the public accepts.

SUPPORT FOR ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS

The concept behind alternative schools (separating students with serious problems from other students) is viewed favorably by much of the American public.

The public thinks it is better both for the students themselves and for the other students in the class if students who suffer from emotional or behavioral problems such as drinking, drug use, or frequent fighting are separated from the other students rather than kept in their regular classrooms.

  • BETTER FOR PROBLEM STUDENTS TO:
    Be kept in regular classes: 30 percent
    Be separated from other students: 56 percent
  • BETTER FOR THE OTHER STUDENTS TO:
    Keep troubled kids in regular classes: 23 percent
    Separate troubled kids: 67 percent
By a two-to-one margin, public response to the specific option of placing students in alternative schools is favorable.

Two-thirds of the public favor removing children with chronic behavioral problems (such as fighting in school, using drugs, or drinking) from the regular school system and placing them in alternative schools with other children like themselves.

  • VIEW OF ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS:
    Favor: 64 percent
    Oppose: 30 percent
WOULD YOU PAY FOR ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS?

More than half (56 percent) of the public say they would be willing to pay an additional $100 a year in property taxes to help pay for such schools.

Only 37 percent say they would not pay an additional tax for this purpose. Although parents are slightly more willing to pay the tax than non-parents (60 percent and 53 percent, respectively), even a majority of those with no children at home would be willing to pay extra to support this option.

DO ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS WORK?

One reason for public support for programs such as alternative schools is that many Americans believe that providing troubled young people with help can change their lives.

A majority of the public (85 percent) thinks that it isn't too late even for 16- or 17- year-olds to change their behavior if they receive the help they need.

  • CAN 16- OR 17-YEAR-OLDS BE HELPED?
    Can be helped: 85 percent
    Too late to help: 12 percent
In fact, te view held by most Americans is that alternative schools are effective in helping students with serious problems by giving them the attention and discipline they need.

A total of 62 percent of those who expressed an opinion think alternative schools generally help these children, and only 38 percent think these schools generally make these students' problems worse.

WHEN TO REMOVE KIDS FROM REGULAR CLASSES

What type of behavior is grounds for a student to be removed from classes and placed in an alternative school or program?

According to the public, a range of chronic disruptive behavior qualifies.

When asked about specific discipline problems including getting into fights frequently, regularly skipping school, rarely doing homework, or using drugs or alcohol, majorities of Americans feel that students who exhibit such behavior should be removed from regular classes.

Fully three-quarters of the public feels that students who are found with drugs or alcohol should be either expelled from school or put into special classes with other students who have behavioral problems.

More than two-thirds feels that removing students who often get into fights from regular classes is appropriate, and more than half feels the same about students who skip class often or rarely turn in homework.

Although the public views all of these behaviors as warranting removal from regular classes, it is also clear that Americans make a distinction between illegal behavior (such as underage drinking and drug use) and disruptive behavior (such as fighting or skipping class).

The public views illegal behavior as clearly requiring more drastic steps; nearly half of Americans think that students who are found with drugs or alcohol should be removed from the regular school system altogether.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 878 adults interviewed by telephone April 13-14, 1999. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample. Sampling error on reduced or half samples is larger.