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MTSU Poll assesses Tenn. education, Common Core, vouchers

The spring 2014 MTSU Poll found that Tennesseans’ give their schools “Cs,” haven’t heard of Common Core, are uncertain about school vouchers, trust their teachers, and have mixed feelings about the use of standardized testing.

Data for the statewide poll was collected Jan. 23–26, with results having an error margin of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.MTSU Poll logo

Tennesseans give their schools middling grades

When asked to assign grades to schools on the typical “A” to “F” scale, 45 percent of Tennesseans give the quality of their local schools either an “A” (16 percent) or a “B” (29 percent). Significantly fewer, 31 percent, give the quality of all Tennessee schools either an “A” (9 percent) or a “B” (22 percent).

Dr. Ken Blake

Dr. Ken Blake

On average, Tennesseans give their local schools about a “C+” for quality and schools statewide about a “C.”

Tennesseans living in Davidson and Shelby counties give markedly lower quality ratings to state and local schools than do Tennesseans living in less urban counties. Respondents in Davison and Shelby counties – collectively about 15 percent of the sample – give the quality of both state and local schools about a C-minus on average.

“Despite the various changes that have been made to education policy over the last few years, the grades that Tennesseans give their schools – both statewide and locally – have remained fairly stable since fall of 2011,” said Ken Blake, director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University.

 

 

 

Percentages of Tennesseans Giving Grades to Schools in the MTSU Poll

Local Schools

Grade

Spring 2014

Spring 2013

Fall 2011

A

16%

18%

15%

B

29%

36%

33%

C

27%

22%

26%

D

12%

7%

12%

F

6%

6%

7%

State’s Schools

Grade

Spring 2014

Spring 2013

Fall 2011

A

9%

8%

5%

B

22%

28%

29%

C

34%

36%

40%

D

16%

8%

11%

F

8%

6%

4%

Source: MTSU PollPercentages do not add to 100% due to rounding, “don’t know” responses, and refusals to answer the question.

 

Most haven’t heard of the Common Core State Standards

Most Tennesseans, 58 percent, say that they have not heard of the Common Core State Standards for education, a national education initiative to define what students in public K-12 schools should know in English and math by the end of each grade.

Only 38 percent of Tennesseans say that they have heard of the standards. The rest say they are unsure if they have heard of the standards or refuse to answer the question. Nationally 62 percent of Americans say they have not heard of the Common Core State Standards, according to a 2013 poll by Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa International.

“Despite public hearings and a reasonable amount of media coverage, like most Americans, most Tennesseans simply haven’t heard of the Common Core State Standards for education,” said Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU Poll.

The most important predictor of awareness of the standards among Tennesseans is one’s own level of education. A 65 percent majority of those with a bachelor’s degree or more schooling say that they have heard of the standards, while 32 percent say they have not. In contrast, 68 percent of those with less than a bachelor’s degree say that they have not heard of the standards while only 27 percent say that they have heard of them.

MTSU professor Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU Poll, presents findings of the latest poll on Thursday at Tennessee Press Association's winter convention in Nashville. (Photo by MTSU News and Media Relations)

MTSU professor Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU Poll, presents findings of the latest poll on Thursday at Tennessee Press Association’s winter convention in Nashville. (Photo by MTSU News and Media Relations)

A follow-up question asked Tennesseans who have heard of Common Core whether they approve or disapprove of the initiative. Responses are mixed. A plurality of 43 percent say they disapprove of the standards compared to only 22 percent who say they approve. A sizeable portion, 35 percent, of those who say they have heard of the standards say they have no opinion about them yet.

Among Tennesseans who have heard of Common Core, the most important predictor of approval is whether one self-identifies as an Evangelical Christian. Only 15 percent of Evangelicals who have heard of the standards approve of them, while 49 percent disapprove and 36 percent don’t yet have an opinion. In contrast, non-Evangelicals who have heard of the standards are nearly evenly divided, with 33 percent who say they approve, 32 percent who say they disapprove, and 34 percent saying they don’t yet have an opinion.

Uncertainty on school vouchers

Just under half (48 percent) of Tennesseans support “providing most families in Tennessee with tax-funded school vouchers that they could use to help pay for sending their children to private or religious schools if they wanted to.”

That’s followed by a significantly smaller, but still sizable, 41 percent who oppose the idea. Another 11 percent are unsure.

The percentages remain essentially unchanged when Tennesseans are asked the follow-up question, “What about if school vouchers were provided only to poor families whose children are attending low-achieving Tennessee schools?” (49 percent in favor, 40 percent opposed, and 12 percent unsure).

Support for the general idea of vouchers is greatest among Tennesseans age 55 and younger, especially those who are also African American or who are both white and lower-income. Support for providing school vouchers only to poor families with children in low-achieving schools also shows an age trend, with younger Tennesseans more supportive than older ones.

Jason Reineke, associate director of the Middle Tennessee State University Poll, speaks during a legislative planning session sponsored by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Jason Reineke, associate director of the Middle Tennessee State University Poll, speaks during a legislative planning session sponsored by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Tennesseans trust teachers

More than two-thirds of Tennesseans (68 percent) say they “have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools,” while a fifth (20 percent) say they do not. Another 10 percent say they aren’t sure, and the rest decline to answer.

Political orientation plays a stronger role in this attitude than other demographics do, with significantly larger percentages of liberals (76 percent) and moderates (73 percent) than of conservatives (66 percent) expressing confidence in teachers. Gender plays a role, too, with more men (77 percent) than women (61 percent) saying they have trust and confidence in teachers.

Standardized testing seen as ineffective

Tennesseans express skepticism about the helpfulness of increased testing in public schools to measure academic achievement.

Asked whether such testing in schools has “helped, hurt, or made no difference,” only 22 percent of Tennesseans say it has helped. Another 22 percent say it has hurt, and 38 percent say it has made no difference. Another 20 percent say they don’t know, and the rest decline to answer.

Perceptions of testing as helpful grow significantly less common among Tennesseans as their education level rises, with college-educated female Tennesseans expressing the most skepticism of all. Nationally, 22 percent of Americans – the same percentage seen among Tennesseans – perceive increased testing as helpful, according to a 2013 poll by Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa International.

Opinion split on using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers

When asked about requiring that teacher evaluations include how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests, 47 percent of Tennesseans say they are in favor of such a requirement while 40 percent are opposed. The rest don’t know or refuse to answer the question.

One’s own level of education is the most important predictor of attitudes about using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Among those who have high school diploma or less education, 58 percent are in favor of evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores while only 25 percent are opposed. Among those with education beyond high school, only 37 percent are in favor of using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers while 54 percent are opposed.

Methods

Poll data were collected Jan. 23–26, via telephone interviews of 600 Tennessee adults conducted by Issues and Answers Network Inc. using balanced, random samples of Tennessee landline and cell phones. Results have an error margin of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. The data were weighted to match the latest available Census estimates of gender and race proportions in Tennessee.

— Dr. Ken Blake (ken.blake@mtsu.edu) and Dr. Jason Reineke (jason.reineke@mtsu.edu)

Jason Reineke, associate director of the Middle Tennessee State University Poll, talks about upcoming poll result releases during the Feb. 6 session. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Jason Reineke, associate director of the Middle Tennessee State University Poll, talks about upcoming poll result releases during the Feb. 6 session. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

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