MADISON, NJ - Greater parental involvement tops the list of factors that New Jersey voters consider the most instrumental in remedying problems associated with public education in the state, according to the most recent statewide survey of registered voters from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. Seven-in-ten voters (71%) say requiring more parental involvement would result in a “major improvement” to the quality of New Jersey’s public schools, and similar numbers (70%) believe a lack of parental involvement is a “major” obstacle to learning for kids in the K-12 public school system.
“Although it’s common to hear system failures, such as ineffective teaching, as the biggest source of education ills in the state, the public seems to think otherwise,” said Krista Jenkins, director of PublicMind and professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
A series of questions was asked concerning what the public views as the biggest obstacles to learning, as well as what would provide the biggest improvement to public schools in the state. About equal numbers believe poorly trained teachers (58%), inadequate funding (56%), and unsafe learning environments (54%) are major obstacles to learning in public schools.
As for what reforms would offer the most bang for the buck in reforming education the state, giving parents vouchers to use in order to foster school choice (40%) comes in last behind parental involvement (70%), more funding for education (53%), and reforming tenure for teachers (52%).
“Despite the push by many to give parents a greater choice in their children’s education by giving them vouchers, the public isn’t sold on the idea. This speaks to the difficulty of assuming that a single remedy will suffice to satisfy the concerns of parents,” said Jenkins.
Some of the biggest differences in perceptions can be seen among Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to view increased funding as key to educational reform. Seven-in-ten Democrats (69%) believe inadequate funding underlies problems today, and the same number (70%) believe more money, including that used for increased teacher pay, would yield a sizable improvement in the public schools. Conversely, only about a third of self-identified Republicans believe the same when it comes to the role that funding plays in problems (39%) and solutions (34%). Republicans are more likely to lay the blame for educational inadequacies at the feet of poorly trained or ineffective teachers (63%) than Democrats (54%), and believe tenure reform would be of greater utility to educational improvement than Democrats (63 versus 46 percent).
“Educational reform and politics go hand in hand. When Democrats and Republicans see things so differently, it’s easy to understand why any changes to the system are difficult to achieve and not without controversy,” said Jenkins.
Related to partisan differences are those that speak to how voters understand the governor’s job performance. For example, those who believe inadequate funding is a problem and that more money for education would yield major improvements to the quality of public schools in the state are significantly more likely to disapprove than approve of the governor’s job performance. Sixty-nine percent of those who identify funding as a major obstacle to learning disapprove of the governor, as do 74 percent of those who believe increased funding is a major part of solving educational deficiencies in public education. Approval for the governor’s performance is higher among those who identify teaching inadequacies as a major culprit. Sixty-three percent of those who approve of his job performance believe teachers are largely to blame, and 59 percent of those who endorse tenure reform as likely to improve public education considerably also give the governor a thumbs up.
“The governor has focused more on system failures than funding as the source of problems. These numbers suggest his leadership hasn’t been enough to allay the concerns of those who focus more on funding than teaching deficiencies in addressing the state’s educational issues,” said Jenkins.
Also of note are differences among whites and non-whites in how they view the state’s educational system. Inadequate funding (67%) and unsafe learning environments (63%) are seen by non-whites as bigger problems today as compared with white respondents (52 and 50%). And giving parents vouchers and increased funding are seen as more likely to yield a bigger improvement to education among non-whites than whites (52 versus 35%; 67 versus 48%).
And finally, when asked whether respondents have heard about the New Jersey Education Association, three-quarters (78%) say they have, with about equal numbers who say they have a favorable (30%) or unfavorable (27%) opinion of the organization.
The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 700 registered voters in New Jersey was conducted by telephone with both landline and cell phones from August 21 through August 27, 2013, and has a margin of error of +/-3.7 percentage points.