In an election year, the issue of education is usually front and center, especially policy that shapes and directs the way children succeed or fail. A recent survey by Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University reveals that people’s confidence in public schools nationwide and President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has significantly declined in 2008. And as Barack Obama and John McCain fight for the presidency, research finds that most people believe Democrats are more likely to improve the problems facing U.S. schools.

The survey reveals that half of the people support leaving NCLB as is or renewing it with minimal changes, and the other half feels the law needs a major overhaul or should be done away with. These results show a big drop among those who support renewing NCLB as is or with minimal changes, from 57 percent of those surveyed last year to only 50 percent today, with comparable declines in support among African Americans, Latinos and whites.

Especially critical of NCLB are public school teachers with only 26 percent supporting renewal as is or with minimal changes. By contrast, 33 percent feel that Congress should completely overhaul NCLB. Another 42 percent recommend Congress not renew the measure at all.

In 2007, 27 percent of African Americans graded public schools with an A or a B. This year that result fell to 20 percent. The number of African Americans grading schools with a D or an F increased from 22 percent to 31 percent.

Many feel more confident in their local police force than in their local schools, especially among Latinos and African Americans. Some 64 percent of Latinos and 55 percent of African Americans gave their police force an A or B, a comparable difference than those showing support for public schools.

Democrats are favored over Republicans to handle education issues better. Sixty-one percent of respondents say the Democrats have a better record on public schools. Some 62 percent believe Democrats are more likely to improve public education. Self-identified Democrats prefer their own party on education by margins of roughly 10 to 1. Republicans do so by just 3 to 1.

In the year 2000, polls complied by political scientist Patrick McGuinn showed that only 44 percent of Americans thought Democrats would do a better job of improving education, compared with 41 percent who favored Republicans. But the recent survey says voters favor Democrats, returning to patterns unseen since the 1980s and 1990s, when voters consistently supported Democrats on education by margins of 20 percentage points or higher.

Other topics in the survey include issues of race- and income-based school integration; mainstream disabled students, single-sex education, home schooling and online education.

The survey was conducted by the polling firm Knowledge Networks between February and March of this year and based on a national sample of 2,500 adults and 700 schoolteachers. The survey is available online at .