CEEP survey on K-12 education: mixed messages for policymakers

The 2010 Public Opinion Survey on K-12 Education in Indiana finds support for some of the education changes being pushed by Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett, but not for others.

The telephone survey of 612 Indiana residents was conducted for the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University in November and December 2010. The survey report is available online, and so are a news release and a PowerPoint presentation given to the State Board of Education.

On the plus side for Daniels and Bennett, the findings suggest a majority of Hoosiers would support changes in the way teachers are evaluated and compensated. On the other hand, a majority believe that schools are underfunded, while the governor and superintendent insist more money isn’t the answer.

As a general trend, the survey found Indiana residents were more critical of schools than in previous years. They were a more likely to give low grades to the state’s schools and a little more likely to think education is getting worse than that it’s getting better.

Of course, most people think schools in their community are better than average – 59 percent gave local schools an A or a B; only 38 percent gave state schools an A or a B. And among parents of school-aged children, 65 percent gave local schools an A or a B.

The folks at CEEP tried to address issues likely to be considered by the state legislature, but the survey doesn’t measure support for two high-profile Daniels-Bennett proposals: promoting more charter schools and instituting private-school vouchers.

Study co-author Terry Spradlin explained that the charter-school proposals – expanding sponsorship of charter schools, giving them access to unused school property, etc. – are probably too technical to address in a survey. That could also be the case with vouchers; a recent survey by a pro-voucher group found that two-thirds of Hoosiers weren’t familiar with the concept.

A key part of the CEEP survey focused on teacher evaluations. Researchers asked: Why do we evaluate teachers? And how do we evaluate teachers?

On the first question, 88.9 percent said teachers should be evaluated to help them improve. But majorities also supported using evaluations to identify ineffective teachers for dismissal (74.3 percent) and to help establish what teachers are paid (59.1 percent). That’s not good news for those who worry that evaluations won’t be fair or comprehensive enough for such high-stakes decisions.

On the second question, a majority supported evaluating teachers on student improvement in the classroom (80.8 percent), observation by principals (66.8 percent) and improvement on standardized tests (53.9 percent).

The survey also asked what should go into determining how much teachers are paid. Current law says teacher pay can be based only on years of experience and education levels, but Daniels and Bennett want compensation to reflect teacher effectiveness.

A majority supported basing pay on student achievement (75.4 percent), principal’s observations (63.7 percent) and student test scores (58.5 percent). But a majority also backed paying teachers according to their level of education (65.2 percent) and years of experience (57.7 percent).

“Hoosiers want to utilize a variety of methods, measures, and indicators in all areas of teacher valuation and compensation,” say co-authors Spradlin, Jonathan Plucker and Rodney Whiteman. “Market forces (such as performance pay) polled well, but so did traditional means.”

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