Poll: Voters lukewarm about RI’s education system

Teacher and students in classroom_198096

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island voters have a favorable view of their home school districts, but they’re less optimistic about the overall state of education, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

The survey of 403 registered Rhode Island voters found 65% gave their child’s school a grade of A or B, with more than one in three saying their kid’s school deserves an A. When asked to grade the overall public school system in Rhode Island, 52% gave a C or worse.

The poll is the latest in a series commissioned by Bryant University’s Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership, an organization funded by former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld. The survey was conducted April 3 to May 3 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. (Fleming & Associates also does polling for WPRI 12.)

The survey focused primarily on the most pressing issues related to public education, including standardized testing, school choice and the Education Commissioner Ken Wagner’s proposal to create “empowerment schools” that could allow students to travel out of district to attend school.

When asked if there is too much emphasis placed on testing in public schools, 67% of voters answered yes. Wagner announced recently the state is unlikely to use the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam as part of its high school graduation requirement in the coming years. Instead he wants individual districts to set their own policies.

Asked for ideas on how to improve education in Rhode Island, 78% said they support expanded school choice and 87% said they would like higher school and student performance standards. More than 92% of voters said they support improved teacher training and 93% said they want to expand programs for low-performing schools.

When asked about Wagner’s plan for empowerment schools, 95% of voters said they consider both school performance and the quality of teaching important when it comes to selecting a school. At least 84% of voters said they also consider curriculum offered, extracurricular activities and school location important.

The survey comes as lawmakers begin to consider a slew of proposed changes to the education landscape in Rhode Island, from school funding to charter schools as well as Wagner’s plan to give individual public schools more decision-making authority and potentially open the doors to enhanced school choice. Surprisingly, the poll did not include a direct question about charter schools.

For the only non-education question in the survey, 50% said they believe the state has moved in the wrong direction.

The vast majority of voters polled – 76% – said they do not have a child in grades K through 12. As for political parties, 39% identified as a Democrat, 14% said they’re a Republican and 44% said they’re an independent.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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