January 25, 2011
About half of the voters polled in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities give their community’s public schools a grade of A (12 percent) or B (37 percent); 83 percent give them a C or higher, according to a new poll conducted by the MassINC Polling Group. Just 12 percent gave the schools a D or F. These positive ratings contrast sharply with the overall poor performance of Gateway Cities schools on metrics like reading proficiency and graduation rates.
The poll precedes a first-ever Gateway Cities Education Summit, set for February 4th in Worcester, which will address the unique challenges of public education in mid-size “Gateway” cities such as Lowell, New Bedford and Springfield. The Summit is sponsored by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the Urban Initiative at UMass Dartmouth.
“These numbers show that residents in the 11 Gateway Cities do not perceive significant problems with their local public schools despite data that show underperformance in key areas,” said Steve Koczela, President of the MassINC Polling Group.
Contrasting the new poll numbers are the state’s most recent data on reading at third grade, a critical indicator of future academic success, and high school completion, an important predictor of future economic wellbeing. These figures (attached) show less than half of third grade Gateway City students are proficient at reading; 37 percent of Gateway City students fail to graduate within four years.
“Like all citizens across the country, Gateway City residents take pride in their local schools, which is a positive factor for the community and the public education system. But we can’t let this good will mask big challenges,” said John Schneider, Executive Vice President of MassINC and coordinator of the Gateway Cities program. “The concern coming from these poll numbers is that many residents in Gateway Cities may be uninformed – or in denial – about the significant hurdles facing these schools and students with closing the achievement gap.”
Gateway City voters may overestimate the quality of their local schools, but the grades they give are in line with national trends, according to Koczela. A recent Gallup survey1 showed 11 percent gave an A to their local public schools, 38 percent gave a B, and 33 percent gave a C; very similar to grades given by Gateway City voters.
MassINC’s Gateway Cities education poll also showed significant support for early education programming, among other reforms. Respondents were also asked to rate their support for a variety of potential reform initiatives. Early education received the highest level of support, with 91 percent of respondents supporting the idea. Next highest was increasing funds to support the reform process. However, when the same question was asked with the phrase “raising taxes” included, support dropped to the lowest of any item.
Community awareness and reform strategies are among the topics to be discussed at the upcoming Gateway Cities Education Summit, “Learning for Growth.” At the summit, leaders will discuss ways in which factors like high poverty levels, and larger numbers of English Language Learners impact school and student performance. The conference, which features a planned keynote address by Governor Patrick, will also look at reforms, such as student-centered learning, longer school days and early intervention, which have brought pockets of high performance to cities with struggling schools.
About the poll: These results are based on a poll of 400 registered voters living in the 11 Gateway Cities. Live telephone interviews were conducted January 11 – 13, 2011 via both landline and cell phone by Eastern Research Services. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.9 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence.
About The MassINC Polling Group: The MassINC Polling Group is an independent, nonpartisan polling firm providing public opinion research and analysis to public and private sector clients. MPG is a full service opinion polling operation offering strategic consultation, a wide-ranging suite of analytical products, and high-level communication and outreach planning. MassINC Polling Group is a subsidiary of MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank. For more information, visit massincpolling.com.
About MassINC: The Massachusetts Institute for the New Commonwealth (MassINC) is an independent think tank and publisher of CommonWealth magazine. Our mission is to stimulate nonpartisan debate, shape public policy and advance a public agenda that supports the growth of the middle class. MassINC’s impact is achieved through independent research, journalism and civic forums that promote: jobs and economic security; sustainable communities; and government accountability.