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Last modified: Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hoosiers growing more pessimistic about schools and support some changes, not others

Seventh Public Opinion Survey on K-12 Education in Indiana released by CEEP

Feb. 8, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana residents indicated a growing concern about how well schools are performing and provided some support for proposed changes in the latest statewide survey of Hoosiers' opinions about education conducted by the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy (CEEP) at Indiana University.

Terry Spradlin

Photo by Kip May

Terry Spradlin

Print-Quality Photo

The 2010 Public Opinion Survey on K-12 Education in Indiana asked a representative sample of state residents their opinion on a variety of topics relating to schools, including several matters now before the Indiana General Assembly, in late November and early December.

"It made sense that we ask questions about the key issues that would be discussed by policymakers during the session and take the pulse of Hoosiers on those major issues," said Terry Spradlin, CEEP director of education policy. Spradlin presented the full report to a meeting of the Indiana State Board of Education in Indianapolis this afternoon. He is co-author of the survey report, along with CEEP Director Jonathan Plucker and Rod Whiteman, graduate research associate with CEEP.

Reflecting a possible change in how the state of Indiana evaluates schools, this year's survey asked respondents to assign a letter grade to Indiana public school quality. The largest response was for a C grade (37.1 percent), with B the second highest response (31.4 percent). Hoosiers opinion of schools is lower from the last survey in 2008 when the "good" category—equivalent to a B—received the largest response, with "fair" or C the second-highest answer.

"I think what we're hearing in the media through some of the messages being conveyed by our state leaders, it's taking hold that schools aren't doing as well," Spradlin said. He did note that, on the whole, Hoosiers are relatively positive. The grades of D and F received only 12.7 percent combined. Demographic breakdown of the numbers revealed that Central Indiana residents are most pessimistic about schools while Southern Indiana residents rate schools most favorably. African-Americans are the least satisfied with schools, assigning a D or F more than any other group.

In response to whether academic performance of Indiana's public schools is better, worse, or has stayed about the same over the last five years, for the first time in the survey's history more said schools are getting worse (25.9 percent) than getting better (20.2 percent). Still, "stayed about the same" received the most responses (45.5 percent).

Jonathan Plucker

Jonathan Plucker

Print-Quality Photo

Hoosiers answered more positively about the schools they knew best. When asked about the schools in their own communities, the largest response assigned their own schools a B (37.1 percent), although that number is down more than 5 percentage points from 2008. More Hoosiers said academic performance of their community schools has gotten worse in the last five years than in any previous survey, but the majority (51 percent) said they had performed about the same. "Several national and state polls have found a similar 'there's a problem but not in my schools' phenomenon," said Plucker. "Americans are traditionally tough critics of their public schools in general, but their attitudes soften when asked about their local public schools."

Respondents indicated support for a variety of measures the state is considering to improve teacher quality. "We asked Hoosiers to identify any of these items they felt was important to apply for purpose of evaluating teachers," said Rod Whiteman, graduate research associate with CEEP. "We see that helping teachers improve is really overwhelmingly supported." Nearly 89 percent responded that a purpose of teacher evaluations should be to help teachers improve teaching ability. Documenting ineffectiveness that could lead to dismissal received 74.3 percent. Just over 59 percent indicated evaluations should play a role in teacher salaries.

In response to a further question on teacher pay, teacher's years of experience received the least support, although still a majority (57.7 percent) as a factor in determining salary. Student achievement in the classroom received the highest response (75.4 percent), followed by teacher education level (65.2 percent), principals' evaluations (63.7 percent), and student achievement on standardized tests (58.5 percent). "Hoosiers are recognizing that this idea of compensation is fairly complex and there should be a variety of factors included," Whiteman said.

Other findings of the survey included:

  • In response to what improvement strategy Hoosiers would prefer for his or her child attending a school placed on state or federal academic probation, "transform school" received the large majority -- 65.9 percent. That option would involve retraining teachers and principals, changing instructional practices, and extending student learning and teacher planning time. The other options received far less support, including "turnaround school" (replacing the principal and at least half the teachers), which received 7.6 percent, "offset tuition" (vouchers for attending another public or private school), receiving 6.5 percent, the "restart" model (ceding school operations to outside management), receiving 5.4 percent, and closing the schools, which got just 2.1 percent support.
  • Slightly more said the level of public education funding in Indiana is not enough to meet student learning needs. About 65.5 percent said funding is insufficient, up from 63.6 percent in 2008. The percentage of "not enough" respondents also rose, compared to past surveys, when respondents considered that Indiana school districts spend about $10,000 per student annually (47.8 percent from 45.6 percent in 2008).
  • Considering a plan for schools to join the state-negotiated health insurance pool as a potential money-saving option, few supported requiring schools to join (15.6 percent). Most preferred requiring schools join only if a district cannot negotiate a less expensive plan on their own (46.1 percent).
  • When asked if they would support allowing anyone with a college degree to obtain the training leading to a teaching license through a state-approved nonprofit organization instead of through a college or university, 55.2 percent either completely or somewhat supported that provision with 32.5 percent who said they would somewhat or completely oppose that licensing option.
  • Regarding virtual education, Hoosiers gave the most support for using virtual learning for providing advanced courses not presently offered at a student's school (88.3 percent). Additional support for at-risk students also received strong support (84.6 percent), while providing a pathway to a diploma for high school dropouts got a high level of support (71.3 percent).

The entire survey, including demographic data and methodology, may be downloaded from

You can see a short video with Terry Spradlin speaking about some of the survey highlights at

CEEP, one of the country's leading nonpartisan education policy and program evaluation centers, promotes and supports rigorous evaluation and research primarily, but not exclusively, for educational, human services and nonprofit organizations. Center projects address state, national and international education questions. CEEP is part of the IU School of Education. To learn more about CEEP, go to