According to a recent
poll, 60 percent of 600 Michigan
voters believe schools are underfunded and another 83 percent think teacher pay
is about right or too low.
As much as anything, polls like this measure respondents'
knowledge of the particular issue. Studies show that when respondents know the
facts, their opinions on public education issues change significantly.
For example, a report, authored by William G. Howell of the University of Chicago and Martin R. West of Brown University and released last
summer, found that 61 percent of a nationwide sample of 2,500 uninformed
respondents thought school spending should increase — nearly the same result as
the recent Michigan
poll. When told what their local district actually spends, however, the "spend
more" response fell by 10 points, to 51 percent.
Likewise, support for higher teacher salaries dropped from
69 percent to 55 percent when respondents were given the facts on average
teacher pay. The somewhat larger before-and-after disparity on this question
suggests that the public has an even poorer understanding of what teachers
actually make. That conclusion is supported by a 2007 survey by Howell and West, in which
respondents underestimated average teacher salaries by $14,000.
Given the above, how different would the results of that recent
have been had respondents been given the facts about school funding in this
state? If told that total school revenue increased by 33 percent in the last 15
years even after adjusting for inflation — the 2008 Michigan school district
average was $13,000 per
student — would 60 percent still think schools need more money? Would people
still think teachers need higher pay if informed that average teacher
salaries in Michigan
are among the nation's highest?
Incidentally, the most recent head of the polling company
hired to conduct the Michigan
survey has a new job: He's now the director of government affairs for the
state's largest school employee union, the Michigan Education Association. The
Detroit News, which commissioned the poll along with WXYZ TV, cast the results
as coming "at a time when protests against the worst school cuts in Michigan history have
reached a fever pitch, and could mean Senate Republicans have pushed too far
with their focus on balancing the budget without raising taxes."
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