The findings also suggest there could be more public support than ever for schools hoping to find funding for improvements.
A majority of Americans 51 percent gave A and B grades to their schools, according to poll results released Wednesday in Washington by Phi Delta Kappa, a Bloomington-based education association, and its research partner, the Gallup organization.
Seventy-two percent of those polled said they would rather reform the existing public school system than replace it, and 71 percent favored improving existing schools over providing vouchers for parents to use to pay for private or church-sponsored schools.
The poll surveyed 1,108 adults between May 23 and June 6.
Supporters of public schools said the results confirmed the value of K-12 public education.
However, some critics of the poll warned against taking some of the poll's conclusions too seriously, particularly those dealing with the issue of school choice.
The poll's findings suggested that support for public funding of private education, commonly called school choice, appears to have peaked and is on the wane.
Support for school choice reached 24 percent in 1993, 44 percent in 1997 and 1998, then dropped to 34 percent in 2001, according to the poll.
Robert Enlow, vice president of the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, an Indianapolis-based school choice supporter, was skeptical of the poll's conclusions.
"People are very supportive of the idea of choosing where to send their children," he said. "These polls continue to ask a question in a way that is biased from the outset. You can make a poll say anything you want."
As to the question of charter schools, the poll found that 55 percent have heard or read about them, but it also found that 49 percent oppose the idea of charter schools whie 42 percent favor it.
The poll also found that 68 percent believe the amount of money spent on the public school system affects the quality of education a student receives.
Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the School of Education at Indiana University, said whether that belief translates to more public funding for schools remains to be seen.
"Education is expensive," Gonzalez said. "Free and public education is a defining characteristic of American society, but no matter what we do it is going to cost money."
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