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Posted at 5:13 PM ET, 09/14/2010

About that Time magazine education poll

By Valerie Strauss

My guest today is Matthew Di Carlo, a senior fellow at the nonprofit Albert Shanker Institute. This post appeared on the institute’s Shanker Blog, where this first appeared.

By Matthew Di Carlo
A recent education poll conducted by Time magazine has gotten a lot of attention. Many of the questions are worded so badly that the results are rather meaningless.

The question on merit pay, for example, defines the practice as “paying teachers according to their effectiveness” (who would oppose that, if it could be accurately measured?).

Other questions elicited interesting responses, such as the one asking whether respondents would pay higher taxes to improve public schools (56 percent would). Or the finding that, when asked what will “improve student achievement the most,” more than twice as many people choose “more involved parents” (54 percent) over “more effective teachers” (24 percent).

But, as is sometimes the case, a few of the survey’s most interesting results were not included in the published article about the poll, which highlighted only 11 out of 40-50 or so total questions (the full set of results is available here).

Here are some items that were on the complete survey -- (which had a sample size of 1,000, with a margin of error of +/- 3 percent) -- but not included in the article:

The vast majority of Americans, according to the poll, believe that test-based accountability has either not worked or has actually been harmful.

Asked about the “increased focus on standardized testing and data in public schools over the past decade,” 33 percent feels that it has “had little effect,” while 36 percent believes it has “actually done more harm than good.” So, almost 70 percent say the testing explosion has had a negative or negligible effect. Only 22 percent feel that it has “done more good than harm.”

Most people don't know anything about “Race to the Top”. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents knew nothing about the Obama administration’s signature education program, and only 5 percent claim to “know a lot.”

Americans’ opinions about the “quality” of public education depend on how you ask the question, and, of course, whose schools you’re talking about.

For instance, 67 percent of respondents believe that public schools are “in a ‘crisis’” (a result highlighted in the published article), but only 58 percent are “dissatisfied” with public schools. While 65 percent of respondents feel that schools are not “teaching students the skills they will need for our economy in the 21st century,” only 20 percent give the public education system a grade of “D” or “F.” Still, among parents of school-age children, a full 71 percent give their own kids’ schools a grade of “A” or “B.”

And here’s one final perplexing thing: The description of tenure was changed for the published article from the survey. In the published presentation of results, the question about teacher tenure asks: “Do you support or oppose tenure for teachers, the practice of guaranteeing teachers lifetime job security after they have worked for a certain amount of time?” (emphasis mine).

In the full survey results, however, the question (the one presumably actually asked of respondents) is: “Do you support or oppose tenure for teachers, which makes it difficult to remove them from their jobs after they have worked for a certain period of time?” (emphasis mine).

It's curious that Time chose to print a different—and more negative and politically charged—question than the one they actually used with respondents.


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By Valerie Strauss  | September 14, 2010; 5:13 PM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Matthew Di Carlo, School turnarounds/reform, Standardized Tests, Teacher assessment  | Tags:  merit pay, time and education poll, time magazine education poll, time poll and schools  
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Thank you for this piece. I agree with you that much depends on the way questions are worded. It is also interesting to see which results were not included in the published article.

Here's another interesting one:

Q19. How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?

a) In general, most public school teachers are competent at teaching the grades and subjects they are assigned

Strongly agree: 24%
Somewhat agree: 52%
Somewhat disagree:15%
Strongly disagree: 6%
No answer/don't know: 3%

I am a little confused about your last point. Isn't the original question more negative and politically charged than the published version? It seems to me this is the more negative of the two: "Do you support or oppose tenure for teachers, which makes it difficult to remove them from their jobs after they have worked for a certain period of time?" This implies that those who might want or need to get rid of a teacher will have difficulty doing so. The other one focuses more on job security.

In any case, the discrepancy is problematic. Time should have published the same version that it used in the poll.

Posted by: DianaSenechal | September 14, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if Bill Gates was behind the anti-teacher article in Time.

Posted by: jlp19 | September 14, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

For bsallamack and intesrested others, here is another article from The Indy Star about a child who behaviour and lack of skills has disrupted the education of the other students.
"The Indianapolis Star's Robert King continues his interesting series of articles in A difficult start for one child at IPS School 61. He focuses on one explosive kindergartener's behavior and how the school is trying to help the student."

It would good if Jay, Bill, or Valerie were to look at the same here in the DC area.

Posted by: edlharris | September 14, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

For some inexplicable reason, there is an anti-teacher movement led by the press. Is it because of the economy? Is this something that sells papers? Are newspaper magnates helping to discredit schools so as to get their corporate hands on school tax dollars?

I don't know the answers to the above questions but I do know the following, according to more reliable polls and to my own experience:

The vast majority of American people are satisfied with their own local schools and teachers. Therefore when this nonsensical "reform" comes to Main Street, USA, I think we'll see many citizens joining educators in significant push-back. Actually I think we're seeing that in DC today.

True educational reform has to respond to what we know about how children learn. A good start is with high-quality preschools to prevent the development of the achievement gap.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 14, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Actually, now I see how the published version of the question might be more negative and politically charged than the other one in some ways. "Guaranteed" lifetime job security may suggest to some that a teacher need not work hard to keep his or her job. I suppose it depends somewhat on how the respondent hears the question.

In any case, Time should have printed the version that it asked.

Posted by: DianaSenechal | September 14, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

"For some inexplicable reason, there is an anti-teacher movement led by the press. Is it because of the economy? Is this something that sells papers? Are newspaper magnates helping to discredit schools so as to get their corporate hands on school tax dollars?"

It's all of the above...and in my opinion, it is also lazy journalism, ignorance, and the fear of attacking the real problems...because those problems are difficult to solve and requires some self-examination by a media that has prostituted itself to spin.

And those who are "inventing" all these fads (who haven't been in a classroom in years and years)...are just trying to save their own reputation's.

This country has put education on the back burner for decades....and it has caught up with us. The newest fad dictates instruction and how schools are managed....then another fad comes along and poof...we start at square #1 all over again. Teachers are it any wonder kids aren't feeling the confusion?

Educational common sense has been buried under the guise of academia. In today's either have money or academic credentials...and if you have neither, your opinion is is either black or white with no gray areas....there is a them vs. us environment in this country that has shamefully engulfed education.

And the media, instead of conducting a thorough investigation, found a scapegoat in teachers...a group who generally will not advocate for themselves. We have made ourselves an easy target. (I many teachers are being interviewed by the 24 hour "news" hosts...or how many education reporters actually have any education experience? Do you think they'd hire anyone that knew zero about sports to write for the sports pages or anyone who didn't cook to write a restaurant review?)

It's also about gamesmanship and teachers don't know how to play...we believe that education is serious business and should not be demeaned by a political "game" or considered as a social experiment by self-involved power brokers.

Posted by: ilcn | September 14, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

It's not surprising that parents and taxpayers have limited knowledge about schools or education reform. The schools like it that way.

For parents who would like to learn more about their schools, read my article "20 Questions to Ask Teachers and Principals at Back to School Night" on my website at

Posted by: roycesiggard | September 15, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

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