printed in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, December 1, 2014
by Phyllis Bush
with Michelle Bandor, Judith Beineke, Susie Berry, Stu Bloom, Ron Crosby, Anne Duff, Lucy Hess, Terry Springer
Policy makers, politicians and the media love data, so the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (NEIFPE) decided to create a survey directed at the people whose lives are affected by the recent and ongoing education reforms. The goal was to gather data from parents, from grandparents, from taxpayers, and from the community to learn what people really think.
NEIFPE spent a great deal of time constructing the questions so as not to bias the answers. We purposefully left a place for comments after most of the questions so that respondents could clarify their responses if they wished. After reading 2,121 comments, we realized that people had a great deal to say and that they wanted their thoughts to be known.
A brief summary of the responses we received.
The majority of respondents were taxpayers (87%), public school employees (50%), and parents and grandparents of public school students (46%). They are major stakeholders in public education. We realize this is not a scientific survey; however, we believe that these respondents, particularly educators and parents, offer a significant voice not usually heard by policy makers.
The majority of respondents oppose the current policies governing schools. Their responses stress the lack of fairness in the way public schools are funded and evaluated in comparison with charter and voucher-accepting schools. The majority (86%) emphatically stated that charter schools and voucher-accepting schools receiving tax revenues should be held to the same standards as traditional public schools to help level the playing field; 86% oppose the A-F grading of schools; 97% said test scores are an inaccurate way to evaluate schools, teachers, and students; 96% felt that if private and charter schools receive tax dollars, they need to accept all students.
As one respondent commented, “Public schools should be funded by public dollars. Any other education system, whether it be charter, private, or home schooled, should be funded by the people that use that system.”
Other questions that elicited strong reactions focused on evaluation of schools and teachers using standardized tests. Since the State Board of Education recently released the school letter grades, these questions seem particularly significant. Respondents concluded that standardized test scores are inadequate measures and reflect a school’s demographics rather than a school’s quality or success. In addition, respondents said that such evaluations are both “demoralizing and demeaning.”
When answering the question, “As a taxpayer/voter, what do you expect of the schools in your community,” this comment summarizes the thoughts of the majority of the respondents about public schools.
“I expect the schools to prepare our children to live, work in, and enjoy our world, and to understand their role in being a citizen in our democracy --their rights and privileges of having a voice, and using it, through communicating with and questioning elected officials and voting to choose those officials.”
- The community cares about the quality of the public schools
- Children and schools cannot be accurately evaluated by only test scores
- Children’s growth, creativity, and knowledge are being restricted due to the emphasis on high-stakes tests.
- All schools that receive tax dollars should be held to the same guidelines and accountability.