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Poll finds only 35% give Michigan schools an A or a B

Feb 16, 2015

Empty desks in a classroom.
Credit Matt Katzenberger / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

Most people in a Michigan Radio/Public Sector Consultants poll would give Michigan a "C" when it comes to the state's education system.

Six-hundred likely voters in Michigan were polled from February 2 through February 5, 2015. Thirty-five percent gave Michigan's school system an A or a B - 49% gave Michigan a C, D, or an F (16% were unsure or didn't offer an answer).

Michigan’s voters consistently list K-12 education as a high priority for the state. In the same poll, 24% identified it as a priority for investment, second only to creating jobs (33%).

The poll shows that while many feel public education is a priority, the state has a long way to go to improve how the state's schools are perceived.

This chart shows how those polled graded the state's school system:

 

When asked to grade their own schools, the grades improve. Of those polled, 61% gave their local schools an A or B, compared to just 35% that gave Michigan’s K-12 schools an A or B.

See the full results below:

 

This phenomenon of giving higher marks to your local school district has been well documented. The same polling results are seen when people are asked about their elected officials. People are more likely to rate their own elected officials higher than elected officials as a whole.

Martin West of the Brookings Institution asked the question, Why Do Americans Rate Their Local Public Schools So Favorably? 

More from his piece:

For some, the pattern suggests that American public schools are better than is widely perceived.  If most Americans are reasonably satisfied with the public schools in their local community, which they know best, then perhaps their more critical views of public schools nationally are a product of distorted or sensational media coverage.  And, by extension, perhaps the urgency of school reform has been exaggerated.

For others, the pattern simply confirms Americans' willingness to delude themselves when responding to surveys.  After all, they ask, how many parents would admit to an interviewer – or even to themselves – that the school their child attends is mediocre?

West acknowledged that the data they have is limited for parsing out the answer to this question, but they did look into whether people tend to exaggerate how well their schools perform. 

The result?

To our surprise, we found that Americans’ views of the level of student achievement in their local school district were quite accurate overall.

CEO of Public Sector Consultants Jeff Williams says it's difficult for people to get a sense for how an entire state school system is faring. 

"When you're left to think about the state as a whole, you have to basically judge against what you see in the news..."

"When you interact with your local public school, you think things are well because you can see it," said Williams. "When you're left to think about the state as a whole, you have to basically judge against what you see in the news – what you see in the media – and sometimes that's an accurate picture and sometimes you're just reacting to the last story that you saw." 

Williams said the takeaway for educational leaders in Michigan comes in two parts. First, he says people shouldn't be surprised by the results. The sentiment that public education is just average has been reflected in past polls. 

But the second issue that was seen in this poll gives him more pause. African Americans, he said, were far more critical of their local schools than whites.

Among likely African American voters, 41% gave their local schools an A or B compared to 64% of white voters, and they are far more likely to give their local schools a D or F at 20% compared to 8% of white voters.

Williams said he's concerned by this difference, but not surprised. He says that's been the story of modern education since The Nation At Risk was published more than 30 years ago.