VCU Commonwealth Education Poll Finds Virginians Remain Positive about Schools but Fewer Think Schools do Well in Preparing Students for Jobs

The Commonwealth Education Poll found that public ratings of the state’s schools are positive overall, with 63 percent saying the schools provide an excellent or good education. About three-quarters (73 percent) of Virginians say the schools do a good job teaching basics such as reading, writing and mathematics, and 18 percent say the state is doing a bad job in this area.

Smaller majorities say the state’s schools do a good job providing skills needed to enter the work force following high school graduation. These assessments are down from a year ago.

Those saying the schools do a good job providing skills useful in obtaining a job is down eight percentage points from 61 percent to 53 percent today. Those saying the schools do a good job providing the skills for pursuing a technical career is down six points from last year (64 percent to 58 percent). Similarly, those saying the schools do a good job providing skills needed for the work force is down five points, from 59 percent to 54 percent today.

The Commonwealth Education Poll was conducted by landline and cell telephone from Dec. 2 to 8, 2010, with a random sample of 1,002 adults in Virginia. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. This survey is conducted annually by VCU’s Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute (CEPI).

“There are some hints of caution as well as continued good news for the schools in these findings,” said Cary Funk, associate professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs and director of the survey. “Majorities give the schools positive ratings across a number of areas, particularly in teaching the basics, but there’s a downward trend in perceptions of how well schools prepare students for jobs, technical careers and the work force needs of the future.”

The Commonwealth Education Poll asked which of five kinds of skills taught in the public schools are most important for preparing students for the work force needs of the future. The most common response was math, science and technology skills (32 percent say these are most important,) followed by reasoning and problem-solving (23 percent) and writing and communicating effectively (23 percent.) Also, 11 percent say creative thinking is most important and 4 percent say working with diverse cultures is most important.

Nearly seven-in-10 Virginians (68 percent) believe that the amount of money spent on the schools affects education quality a great deal or quite a lot. About six-in-10 (59 percent) Virginians say that schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs while 31 percent say schools have enough funding now. Those saying school funding is enough is up four points from a year ago (27 percent to 31 percent today.)

“In these times of high unemployment and flat wages, it’s remarkable to see support for school funding remaining strong as we look at our poll results across the past several years,” said William C. Bosher, Jr., executive director, Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute and distinguished professor of public policy in the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “An example of that support comes from the 55 percent who say they would be willing to pay higher taxes so school funding could be increased, a figure that is about the same as last year.”
Other survey findings:

Teacher Compensation and Teacher Tenure. The survey finds 46 percent in favor of paying teachers whose students perform well on tests more than teachers whose students perform poorly; 39 percent say such teachers should not be paid more than others. Another 15 percent did not express an opinion on this issue. The plurality opinion on this issue has shifted from a year ago when 52 percent opposed paying teachers whose students perform well on tests more than those whose students perform poorly. This unusual shift shows that opinions about this issue are in flux as public deliberation about teacher compensation continues.

STEM: Public Views about Science Education. A plurality (46 percent) says local schools are currently giving about the right amount of emphasis to science education while three-in-10 say there is not enough emphasis and just 1 percent say there is too much emphasis on science. Those holding a college degree are more likely than other education groups to say that local schools are not putting enough emphasis on science. Among college graduates, 38 percent say there is not enough emphasis on science teaching in the local schools; 22 percent of those with no more than a high school diploma say the same.

When asked to choose between two options for improving high school science education, more identify instructional quality over curriculum issues as a bigger need. A 52 percent majority says that improving the teaching quality in science and math courses now offered at local high schools is needed most; 29 percent say offering more challenging material is needed most. Also, 5 percent volunteered that both of these are needed, 13 percent did not have an opinion and 1 percent volunteered that neither is needed.

Younger adults (ages 18 to 34) are more likely than older adults to say better quality instruction of current course offerings is needed most (60 percent say this, compared with 49 percent among adults 35 and older). Parents are also more likely than other adults to say better quality instruction is needed most.

Parents and Local School Evaluations. Virginians are more positive than negative in their evaluation of schools in their own community. Two-thirds say their local schools provide an excellent (26 percent) or good (40 percent) education, a figure that is about the same as last year. Three-in-10 parents rate their local schools as excellent; this compares with 25 percent among those who don’t have a child in the schools. The difference between parents and other citizens is more muted than past years. A year ago, there was a 15-point difference between parents and other citizens in rating the local schools as excellent; this year the difference is five points.

Funding Priorities for Schools and Other State Programs. Public schools top the list of programs that Virginians say they would be willing to pay higher tax bills for in order to keep program funding levels stable (69 percent say they would be willing to pay more; 27 percent would not). Willingness to pay for steady funding of other programs suggests four gradations in public priorities with schools at the top of the list followed by mental health services (60 percent) and aid to low income families (60 percent). Fewer, though still a majority or near majority, say they would be willing to pay more in taxes for higher education (50 percent) or for transportation (48 percent). About a quarter (23 percent) report a willingness to pay to keep prison funding at its current level.

The entire report including complete question wording and detailed tables of results is available at

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Mike Porter
VCU Communications and Public Relations
(804) 828-7037
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