Survey indicates dissatisfaction with state’s education system

DOVER — More than half the respondents in a new survey said the state spends too little on education, and a quarter gave Delaware’s education system a “D” or an “F”.

The survey, conducted by a research firm and a group of Delaware education and business leaders, offers a look at the state’s schools in advance of this year’s elections. The results indicate many Delawareans have doubts about how the state is preparing students.

Administered from May 17-19 by GBA Strategies and the Vision Coalition of Delaware, the survey reflects the views of 400 registered voters.

More than half of the respondents believe the state is doing no better than “fair” in preparing students for college and careers and giving them a well-rounded education with plenty of support outside the classroom. Fifty-four percent said Delaware does not spend enough on education.

Sixty percent said the state’s schools use “one-size-fits-all solutions” too much, and 68 percent believe officials “must do more to focus on improving public education.”

Thirty-two percent gave the First State’s education system an “A” or a “B” grade, while 36 percent judged it to be “C” level and 25 percent graded it as worthy of “D” or an “F.”

Grades were higher for local schools, however, indicating that while many people hold a negative view of the wider schooling structure and methods, they are more pleased with the efforts of the teachers and administrators they and their children are likely to interact with on a regular basis.

“Delawareans care deeply about their public schools, and they want their elected officials to care about these issues, too,” Ernest J. Dianastasis, chairman of the Vision Coalition’s Leadership Team, said in a statement. “This poll tells us that people want to see greater investments in time, energy and resources to our schools, teachers and kids.”

The state’s education policies have been criticized from some corners, criticism that culminated in 2015 with legislation to let parents opt their students out of standardized tests. The bill passed but was vetoed by the governor.

U.S. Rep. John Carney, a Democrat running for governor, has proposed giving teachers more direct control.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, defended the administration’s efforts and pointed to several initiatives undertaken in the past seven years.

“Access to a high quality education is more important than ever to succeed in today’s job market,” Courtney McGregor said in an email. “Our state has made great strides in recent years, from a massive increase in access to high quality early learning for low-income children to the fastest growing graduation rates in the country.

“Two years after it started with one class of a few dozen students, this fall more than 5,000 high schoolers will participate in career pathway programs that allow them to graduate with workplace experience and college credit in high demand fields.

“And many additional students are taking and passing college classes in high school. We have higher standards aligned to what students need to know for college and career, and students are doing better at meeting those benchmarks.

“Of course we shouldn’t be satisfied until every student graduates ready for success, which is why we’ve focused on implementing our higher standards. Parents should demand continued progress, and the Vision Coalition’s work can help to ensure that strengthening all of our schools is a top priority of all state policymakers.”

Large majorities of participants in the survey also were in favor of investing in early childhood education, developing new training methods and evaluation systems for teachers and promoting greater collaboration between schools and Delaware colleges and businesses.

The finding that many people feel Delaware spends too little on education comes in contrast to the view of many Republican lawmakers, who argue the opposite. One-third of the $4.08 billion budget this year is allocated to the Department of Education.

The survey also questioned people about the best way to confront a budget deficit, which the state was facing in May. Seventy-four percent said lawmakers should raise taxes on individuals earning $250,000 or more to close the gap.

Fifty-eight percent said schools with decreasing enrollment should be closed or consolidated with others, 53 percent supported tax increases on businesses and 52 percent backed a statewide property tax focused on school funding.

Thirteen percent supported laying off teachers and increasing class sizes.

Respondents from Wilmington and those who identified themselves as Republicans were more likely to express dissatisfaction with the state of public education in Delaware.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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