Extra Time: More From The Magazine’s Education Poll

Posted by on September 14, 2010

** Also posted here on “Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post.

A recent education poll conducted by Time Magazine has gotten a lot of attention. Many of the questions are worded so badly that the results are rather meaningless. The question on merit pay, for example, defines the practice as “paying teachers according to their effectiveness” (who would oppose that, if it could be accurately measured?). Other questions are very interesting, such as the one asking whether respondents would pay higher taxes to improve public schools (56 percent would). Or the finding that, when asked what will “improve student achievement the most,” more than twice as many people choose “more involved parents” (54 percent) over “more effective teachers” (24 percent).

But, as is sometimes the case, a few of the survey’s most interesting results were not included in the published article, which highlighted only 11 out of 40-50 or so total questions (the full set of results is available here). Here are three or four unpublished items that caught my eye (the sample size is 1,000, with a margin of error of +/- 3 percent):

The vast majority of Americans believe that test-based accountability has either not worked or has actually been harmful. Asked about the “increased focus on standardized testing and data in public schools over the past decade,” 33 percent feels that it has “had little effect,” while 36 percent believes it has “actually done more harm than good.”  So, almost 70 percent say the testing explosion has had a negative or negligible effect. Only 22 percent feel that it has “done more good than harm.”

Most people have no idea what “Race to the Top” is. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents knew nothing about the Obama administration’s signature education program, and only five percent claim to “know a lot.”

Americans’ opinions about the “quality” of public education depend on how you ask the question, and, of course, whose schools you’re talking about. For instance, 67 percent of respondents believe that public schools are “in a ‘crisis’” (a result highlighted in the published article), but only 58 percent are “dissatisfied” with public schools. While 65 percent of respondents feel that schools are not “teaching students the skills they will need for our economy in the 21st Century,” only 20 percent give the public education system a grade of “D” or “F.” Still, among parents of school-age children, a full 71 percent give their own kids’ schools a grade of “A” or “B.”

And here’s one final, absolutely perplexing thing I noticed: the description of tenure was changed for the published article. In the published presentation of results, the question about teacher tenure asks: “Do you support or oppose tenure for teachers, the practice of guaranteeing teachers lifetime job security after they have worked for a certain amount of time?” (emphasis mine).

In the full survey results, however, the question (the one presumably actually asked of respondents) is: “Do you support or oppose tenure for teachers, which makes it difficult to remove them from their jobs after they have worked for a certain period of time?” (emphasis mine).

Can somebody please explain why Time chose to print a different—and even more negative and politically-charged—question than the one they actually used with respondents?


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