Summary

The Michigan Education Poll began in 1982 as a project of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) Project Outreach program. The 1996 Michigan Education Poll is the 12th survey in this series and was conducted for the MDE by Public Sector Consultants, Inc. This year’s poll marks the fourth year that private sponsors have underwritten the survey; the sponsors are:

  • Detroit Federation of Teachers 
  • Michigan Association of School Boards 
  • Michigan Business Leaders for Education Excellence 
  • Michigan Department of Education 
  • Michigan Education Association 

Overall, in comparison to the 1993 – 94 survey, grades respondents give schools are up but still within historical trends. The percentage of respondents giving public schools an A or B grade increased from 42 percent in 1993 – 94 to 54 percent in this survey. However, when results are compared over time, the 1993 – 94 grades stand out as an exception to the generally favorable marks given Michigan schools. The lower grades in 1993 – 94 may have been due to the public’s focus at the time on education reform, especially Proposal A. The 1993 – 94 grades were identical to those of another period of intense discussion about education — 1982, when the national report, A Nation at Risk, attracted similar attention to education. This year’s A/​B grades mark a return to normal and therefore, are not a substantial departure from the past. 

Demographically, in this survey, 59 percent of parents with school‐​age children and 50 percent of “nonparents” give the schools an A/​B grade. More public‐​school parents give the local public schools an A/​B (64 percent) than do private‐​school parents (38 percent). Regionally (see map in full report), Detroit, metropolitan Detroit, and western Michigan residents all are more generous with A/​B responses than they were in 1993 – 94. Central and northern Michigan and the Thumb remain constant, while only southern Michigan gives fewer A/​B grades (dropping from 51 percent in 1993 – 94 to 45 percent in this survey). The percentage of A/​B grades awarded by southern Michigan respondents in this year’s survey also is lower than in the 1992 survey (66 percent).

Percentage of A/​B Grades Awarded, by Subgroup
 
1996
Survey
1993 – 94
Survey
All respondents
54%
42%
Public‐​school parents
65
47
Private‐​school parents
38
31
African‐​Americans
31
16
Caucasians
57
45
Detroit residents
34
12
Education‐​sector employees
77
56
For‐​profit sector employees
52
37
>$60,000 annual income
64
56
<$20,000 annual income
50
34
4‑year college degree or more
61
55
High school graduate
53
39

Grades for and opinions about specific skills of graduating seniors and some aspects of the education process are slightly higher than in the last survey. In this survey, more respondents than in 1993 – 94 give A/​B grades for the math, science, reading and writing, employability, and technology skills of graduating seniors. This year, 35 percent to 39 percent of the respondents give each of these skill levels an A or B; in the 1993 – 94 poll, the range was 30 percent to 35 percent. Grades for providing a safe environment, gaining the support of parents, and other aspects of the education process also are slightly higher than in 1993 – 94. 

Southern Michigan is a region to watch. Unlike elsewhere in the state, southern Michigan respondents (Jackson, Washtenaw, Monroe, Lenawee, and Hillsdale counties) give their local public schools lower grades in this survey than they did in either 1992 or 1993 – 94, and an increasing percentage of the region’s residents believe that schools are “getting worse.” However, southern Michigan residents give among the highest marks of any region to the positive effects of the passage of 1994’s Proposal A, which shifted the basis of the school finance system from local property taxes to the state sales tax. They also give high marks to the technology skills of their local public school’s graduating seniors. In addition, more southern Michigan residents report themselves to be knowledgeable about the schools than do residents of nearly every other region.

A majority of respondents believe that students from their local schools are either very or somewhat prepared to both compete for jobs in a world economy and enter college ready to learn. In nearly all subgroups a majority of respondents believe that students are very prepared or somewhat prepared for the world beyond high school. One substantial demographic difference does exist: 68 percent of Caucasian respondents believe students graduate ready to compete in a world economy, but only 41 percent of African‐​Americans hold that view; 74 percent of Caucasian respondents believe that local students are entering college ready to learn, but only 47 percent of African‐​Americans share that confidence. 

Respondents feel very good about the level of technology in public school classrooms. A majority of nearly every demographic subgroup believes that computers improve education and that it is important for every student to have access to a computer at school. However, the entire sample is nearly evenly split among those who (1) support upgrading technology with additional taxation, if necessary, (2) support upgrading technology with existing funds, redirected from other school programs, and (3) support no immediate technology upgrades at all. 

A majority of respondents hold the position that schools should teach values and help students to develop good character traits. Among both public‐ and private‐​school parents, there is considerable and consistent support for schools teaching values (supported by 91 percent and 87 percent, respectively) and helping students to develop good character traits (supported by 93 percent and 92 percent, respectively). 

Respondents feel like “owners”of the public schools, but they do not believe that their local district treats them as “customers.” Schools help people feel that they are owners of the schools (52 percent of all respondents feel like owners, 44 percent do not). However, schools have more work to do to make members of the public feel as if they are school customers. 

This survey finds no difference of opinion on the customer aspect among parents and nonparents of school‐​age children. In addition, we find that feelings of both ownership and customer treatment cut across most demographic groups: When respondents are grouped according to those who feel they are (a) both owners and customers, (b) one or the other, or © neither — we see that the responses are largely unaffected by respondent age, education level, income, race, type of community, or employment sector.

However, feelings of customer satisfaction and ownership are very good predictors of responses to other questions. Seventy‐​three percent of respondents who feel like customers give their local public schools A/​B grades overall, while only 43 percent of noncustomers grade the same. When asked about the skills of graduating seniors, A/​B grades are given by an average of 9 percent more owners than nonowners and an average of 18 percent more customers than noncustomers.

A copy of the full report is available below.

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