EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Methodology

In January-February of 2004, Public Sector Consultants Inc. (PSC) conducted the Michigan Education Poll. The survey has been conducted every 2–3 years since 1982. The 2004 random telephone survey of 680 Michigan adults has a margin of error ± 3.8 percent with 95 percent confidence. The poll covers a number of topics related to public education in Michigan—quality, accountability and performance, early childhood education, and funding.

How are the schools doing?

Overall, Michigan residents give their local schools good marks for quality:

  • More than half (54 percent) give their local schools an A/B grade on quality (12 percent A and 42 percent B).
  • Forty-seven percent say the quality of their schools has “stayed the same” in the past few years.
  • As many say their schools have “gotten better” (24 percent) as say they have “gotten worse” (20 percent).
  • Thirty-two percent say the education in their community is better than in neighboring districts; 42 percent say it is the same.

Early Childhood Education

The public supports early childhood education, but this view is tempered by concerns about funding for K–12 education:

  • Forty-six percent of respondents think the state should create mandatory, universal pre-kindergarten education in all public schools.
  • Eighty-two percent believe that public spending on early childhood education is a wise investment.
  • Three out of four believe that government should take care of K–12 schools before spending money on new or expanded early childhood programs.

Attitudes Toward Education Funding

Michigan residents hold a very positive view of the value of their local schools. They seem willing to pay more in property taxes to fund improvements or maintain services and programs, but this depends on the purpose.

  • When considering the quality of education delivered by their local schools, 78 percent of respondents believe public education is a good value for the tax dollars they pay.
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63 percent) choose to maintain education programs even if it means higher taxes; 27 percent would keep taxes as low as possible even if it means cutting education programs.

When presented with a variety of improvements that could potentially be funded through increased property taxes:

  • Nine out of ten respondents would be more likely to vote “yes” for a property tax increase if its purpose were to replace unsafe buildings.
  • More than three-quarters of respondents would be more willing to vote “yes” if the increased revenue went toward improving technology.
  • A similar proportion would be more likely to approve a tax hike if the purpose were to fund special education
  • Seventy-four percent would be more likely to approve an increase for vocational education
  • Seventy-three percent would be more likely to pay more for building new schools to relieve cramped conditions.

Accountability and Student Performance

Looking at factors that impact student learning, the public places the greatest responsibility squarely on teachers and parents, with nearly equal frequency:

  • Thirty percent of respondents say the quality of teachers has the greatest impact.
  • Twenty-nine percent say it is the level of parental involvement.
  • Twelve percent identify the level of motivation the student has for learning.
  • Seven percent feel it is the leadership of the school district.

When schools fail to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind, the public is most likely to blame the leadership of the district, followed in nearly equal frequencies by parents and teachers:

  • Thirty percent believe the superintendent and the school board are most responsible for a school not meeting the standards.
  • Twenty-two percent believe the parents of the children are most responsible.
  • Twenty-one percent believe the classroom teachers are most responsible.

Conclusions

  • The public values education and has a generally positive view of the state of education in Michigan.
  • Early childhood education is also valued, but is viewed as a competitor with K–12 education for funding.
  • Almost half of the respondents support mandatory pre-K public education.
  • Parents and teachers are viewed as having the biggest impact on students’ ability to learn.
  • When things go wrong, superintendents and school boards are most likely to be held accountable, despite the fact that the public does not view them as having much impact on student learning.
  • The public may not be averse to tax increases to maintain specific education programs and services
  • The public considers safety, improving technology, and special education the most persuasive reasons to increase taxes, followed closely by vocational education and new construction to relieve crowding.

A copy of the full report is available below.

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