Education

Poll: Idahoans don’t think very highly of their public schools

Fewer than half of Idahoans would recommend their school district to someone looking to get a top-notch education for their children, according to a poll on education attitudes conducted by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

“I don’t think it is just a perception problem,” said Roger Quarles, foundation executive director. “ I think it is a realistic, operational, performance problem.

“Most Idahoans ... believe public schools should be a pathway to job and career opportunities beyond high school, and today I think the numbers speak for themselves that is just not occurring in those communities.”

The Albertson Foundation doesn’t have comparable data from other states on the percentage of people who would recommend their school districts. But when asked as part of the survey to grade their own schools, 53 percent of respondents gave them a C or below. That is higher than a Gallup poll, where 44 percent nationally gave their schools a letter grade of C or below, said Steve Farkas of FDR Group, the New York research firm that conducted the survey.

Albertson Foundation conducted the poll because it wanted to go beyond measuring traditional stakeholders — education groups, teachers, administrators — to find out what public school customers think of the product, Quarles said. “I think there is a disconnect between the policy level and the students (and parent) level. We’ve got to get past the rhetoric and the politics,” he said.

Results also showed:

▪  Half of Idahoans say education is the biggest issue facing the state, followed by the economy (40 percent) and the environment (9 percent).

▪  Eight out of 10 Idahoans support charter schools and want more high school internships and work experience opportunities for their students.

▪  Three out of four believe in teaching to the same academic standards in Idaho as the rest of the nation — a model used by Common Core State Standards, which faces strong criticism in the state.

Albertson Foundation shared with the Idaho Statesman a portion of the survey, which has more than 50 questions. The remainder will be released with the whole study in January. Quarles said the full release was not timed for when the Legislature was in session, but when the polling company expected to complete its work.

Albertson Foundation also has reviewed some of its findings with some business people, educators, students and lawmakers.

HOW GOOD IS YOUR SCHOOL DISTRICT?

Idahoans’ tepid confidence of their public schools may well represent the measurements by which they gauge a successful education versus those of government and education leaders, Farkas said.

We think the parent voice and the student voice is so critical to the conversation.

Roger Quarles, J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation executive director

Those “official” leaders often assess educational success by achievement scores and graduation rates, he said.

Farkas’ company conducted four focus groups with the general public prior to developing questions for the survey.

“When I talk to people in the focus groups they are talking about ‘Can the kid make change in the grocery store?’ These are the statistics they collect,” Farkas said. “It’s not something that was undermined in a day. It is not something that can be built up in a day.”

The survey result runs counter to the generally held belief that people like their own schools but question the effectiveness of other ones, said House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, who was briefed on the study. “It was a big surprise to see the number that low,” he said.

Idahoans’ response to the question of recommending their schools “shows we have some work to do,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R- Oakley, who was also briefed on the study. “The school districts need to communicate the good things they are doing.”

But he says they are on the right track. “I’m a product of the public schools,” he said. “I graduated at Oakley High with a good education.”

WOULD YOU SEND YOUR KIDS SOMEWHERE ELSE?

Lackluster support for public schools showed up elsewhere in the poll. Nearly three out of four people said they would send their students to another type of school, such as private or charter school, if they had the money.

49 percent Idahoans who say student effort and motivation is more important in determining achievement than teacher quality or school standards.

Among people who are familiar with charter schools in their area, 58 percent said they do a better job of educating students than traditional public schools, more than double the 23 percent who thought public schools gave a better education.

“That’s a stunning finding for me,” Farkas said. “The more Idahoans know about charter schools, the more they like them.”

DeMordaunt wasn’t surprised by strong support for charter schools.

“I think that is probably indicative that parents value choice,” he said.

He wasn’t surprised, either, by the number of people who said they might take their students elsewhere, given the financial ability. He attributes that to the old notion that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.

Bedke said, “I think this polling shows that they have raised the awareness in Idaho or at least planted the thought in Idaho that we can do better.”

About the poll

▪  Number of people interviewed: 1,000

▪  Gender: Male, 46 percent; female 54 percent

▪  Areas reached: Rural, 32 percent’ small towns, 33 percent; suburban, 13 percent; urban or city, 22 percent

▪  Number of questions: more than 50

▪  Margin of error: 3.1 percent

▪  Date of survey: Sept.2-21, 2015

What’s next?

The Albertson Foundation intends to repeat the polling each year to develop a database to track changing attitudes in education, Quarles said. “I hope this opens up a dialogue between policymakers, school-level leaders, teachers, students and families.”

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