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Last modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hoosiers rank education as most important policy issue

Respondents in new Public Opinion Survey on K-12 Education say Indiana students do not surpass peers from other states, countries

Jan. 7, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- Hoosiers ranked education as their top policy issue, according to results from the sixth annual Public Opinion Survey on K-12 Education in Indiana, ranking it higher than the economy, health care and other important issues.

The survey, conducted in November by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at the Indiana University School of Education, gauged the attitudes and perceptions of a representative sample of Hoosiers on key educational issues. For the first time, respondents were asked to rate the importance of eight major policy issues. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being most important, 90 percent rated K-12 education at eight, nine or 10. The economy (88 percent), health care (82 percent), higher education (80 percent), and public safety (73 percent) rounded out the top five.

Survey co-authors Terry Spradlin and Nathan Burroughs presented the survey results to the Indiana State Board of Education during its monthly meeting in Indianapolis this morning (Jan. 7). CEEP Director Jonathan Plucker also is a co-author of the report.

The new survey asked 26 questions over seven categories: school quality, school funding, school district consolidation and governance, school choice and charter schools, virtual education, teacher quality and compensation, and familiarity and support of the federal "No Child Left Behind" accountability law.

Overall, Hoosiers indicated they are a little more positive generally about Indiana's school quality, with 54 percent indicating public schools are excellent or good, up from 50 percent in 2007. Once again, respondents view schools locally even more favorably with 63 percent indicating their schools are excellent or good. Attitudes and perceptions about Indiana teachers also jumped back to long-term trend numbers after a decline in 2007. A total of 70 percent of Hoosiers rated teachers as excellent or good in 2008, compared to 62 percent in 2007.

However, in response to two new questions on this year's survey, Hoosiers indicated that they don't think the academic performance of Indiana high school students is outstanding in comparison to those in other states and nations. Asked where Indiana high school students rank academically with students from other states, 62 percent indicated Hoosier high school students ranked in the middle and 20 percent said near the bottom. Just 12 percent indicated Indiana students are near the top. Comparing students to those from other countries, 43 percent of respondents said Indiana students ranked in the middle, 37 percent said near the bottom, and just 14 percent said near the top.

"Although more respondents feel positive about Indiana schools than those who don't," Spradlin said, "the 2008 results do suggest that Indiana citizens believe ongoing school improvement is needed to ensure that Indiana students perform on par with, or better than, students in other states and nations."

Just as the state legislature shifted the funding of schools away from property taxes in 2008, a larger percentage indicated school funding was not enough to meet student learning needs -- 64 percent, compared to 59 percent in 2007. The percentage dropped to 46 percent when respondents were informed the average per pupil expenditure in Indiana was about $10,000.

The public remains evenly divided on school consolidation, something Gov. Mitch Daniels is recommending the legislature adopt from a 2007 Local Government Reform Commission report. Last month, Daniels recommended school districts reorganize to achieve a minimum student population of 1,000. The same percentage as 2007 -- 49 percent -- agreed consolidation would save tax money. While half of the respondents strongly agreed or agreed that consolidation would provide more learning opportunities for students, just 45 percent agreed to some extent that consolidation would enhance student achievement. Opposition to consolidation increased to 66 percent when residents were asked if they would support or oppose consolidating their community school district with another district.

"Whereas some see it as a possibility to enrich curriculum and possibly save tax dollars, they're just not convinced that it's really going to produce higher academic outcomes for students, or be something they'd desire locally," Spradlin said.

Other survey findings include:

  • A majority of Hoosiers support Daniels' recommendation that school board elections move from the May primaries to the November general election (65 percent indicated they either strongly supported or supported the proposal).
  • A slight majority of Hoosiers (58 percent) said the state should take over and manage persistently failing schools in their community.
  • Fifty-three percent of residents indicated there should be more effort to assist students in low performing schools, rather than to provide parental choice to transfer to another public school or to provide state support for private school tuition. But the percentage supporting additional assistance is down from 62 percent three years ago, and those who favor state support for private school tuition is up 5 percentage points since 2006 to 23 percent.
  • Residents overwhelmingly support the state requiring home-schooled students to participate in the state testing program, ISTEP, with 80 percent supporting the policy and 18 percent opposed.
  • Respondents held favorable views about the use of online learning as a supplement to classroom instruction. A total of 66 percent of the respondents support online courses as a supplement to high school curriculum, 84 percent expressed some level of support using online learning for gifted and talented students to provide more course offerings, and 72 percent expressed some level of support for using online courses for at-risk students to provide opportunities for completing credits and remediation. However, 60 percent would oppose requiring all high school students to complete at least one course online, and 74 percent of Hoosiers indicated that they oppose the creation of virtual public schools where the majority of student instruction is provided over the Internet by a licensed teacher.

The entire report is available at

CEEP promotes and supports rigorous program evaluation and policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for education, human services and non-profit organizations. Its research uses both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. More about CEEP, including complete reports of the 2008 Public Opinion Survey on K-12 Education Issues and the past five public opinion surveys, is available on the CEEP Web site,

Spradlin may be reached for comment today (Jan. 7) at 317-750-2056.

Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at Look for this news release under "News" on the home page. The sound bites below will have a clickable link to hear and to save the files.

Spradlin said he was surprised that attitudes were a little more positive toward schools after a slight dip in the 2007 survey:

"And we had just assumed that we would see another year of decline in attitudes and perception. So that's a good sign for public education and for teachers and educators, that citizens, despite all of the extraneous conditions, felt pretty good about public education."

The opinion expressed by Hoosiers that Indiana students are not exceeding students in other states and are behind students around the world is a concern, Spradlin says:

"Although overall, when we ask about Indiana schools in isolation there's a general positive attitude, the numbers do suggest that we need to show improvement, that citizens feel we can get better."

The designation of education as an important policy concern is consistent with other findings, Spradlin says:

"We did identify the survey, when we were talking to citizens, that this was an education survey, so perhaps the fact that we identified this as an education survey could have boosted education above the economy, but they were very close as the top two issues. And in other polls, the economy is certainly number one, education a close second or third, but more or less, education is clearly a high priority for citizens, and these numbers support that."

Spradlin says school consolidation doesn't have broad support, according to the survey findings:

"Whereas some see it as a possibility to enrich curriculum and possibly save tax dollars, they're just not convinced that it's really going to produce higher academic outcomes for students, or be something they'd desire locally. They identify, citizens identify with their local school communities, with their local school district, they utilize the school district's buildings, it's a part of their community. When a school district is consolidated, it's losing a sense of community. So citizens tend to be against consolidation, and that was clear by the results of the 2008 public opinion survey."