Gateway Cities ed poll shows public has low expectations

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Steve Koczela

In a survey of Gateway City voters conducted by the MassINC Polling Group last month, nearly half of respondents gave their community’s public schools a grade of A (12 percent) or B (37 percent). These positive grades contrast sharply with the state’s assessment. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 7 out of 10 Gateway City students attend schools classified as either underperforming or chronically underperforming.  The consequences are clear when you look at measures of educational achievement. Less than half of third grade Gateway City students are proficient at reading and more than a third fail to graduate within four years.

There are two explanations for the large disconnect between positive public opinion and the realities of Gateway City school performance.

One is the so called “halo effect,” voters may simply overestimate the quality of their local schools because they are personally invested in them. The fact that the grades given are inline with national figures lends some support to this theory. A recent Gallup survey showed 11 percent of respondents nationally gave an A to their local public schools, 38 percent gave a B, and 33 percent gave a C; results very similar to grades given by Gateway City voters.

Another explanation is that Gateway City residents understand the very real challenges their local schools face, and give them an “A for effort” when asked about how well they do.

Regardless of what’s driving these results, they would come as no surprise to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He has noted that too many parents around the country think their schools are fine. He believes this has led to “insidious paralysis” and complacency when it comes to aggravating for change.

Steve Koczela is president of the MassINC Polling Group.

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