>Atttitudes Towards Education Reform

>In our pre-election poll we also asked NJ registered voters their attitudes towards several education reform plans. Today we release the results. The full release with tables is available here.

The test of the release follows:

VOTERS SAY NEW JERSEY SHOULD SPEND MORE ON EDUCATION

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J – Though harboring mixed feelings about key aspects of Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed education reform plan, a clear majority of New Jerseyans say the state is underfunding education, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Almost six-in-10 (59 percent) registered voters say not enough is being spent on schooling; 15 percent believes too much is being spent, while 21 percent thinks expenditures are adequate.

At the same time, Garden Staters are decidedly mixed on two of the governor’s key reform proposals. A large majority of registered voters (70 percent) say tenure for school teachers is mostly a barrier to removing bad teachers, but 63 percent opposes basing teacher pay on pupil test results.

“The spending results are consistent with our earlier polling,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “New Jerseyans generally support their schools and want to see them better funded, even while they want the state to cut back on funding in other areas. While they question tenure, they do not necessarily support the governor’s plans or his spending cuts.”

The poll results are from a random sample of 885 registered voters interviewed statewide Oct. 21-27. The margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.3 percentage points.

Partisans split on funding

Almost twice as many Democrats as Republicans (74 percent to 38 percent) say state funding for education is inadequate. A majority of independents (55 percent) feel the same. Sixty-five percent of parents with children under 18 believe that New Jersey does not spend enough on its schools compared to 54 percent of adults living in households without children.

Public mixed on Christie’s ideas

In September, Gov. Christie unveiled his plan for education reforms that included eliminating tenure, basing pay on pupil performance and testing teacher proficiency in reading and math. New Jerseyans are split on his ideas: 63 percent oppose basing a teacher’s salary on test scores while 32 percent support the concept of merit pay. Respondents are likely to favor tenure reform, since 70 percent think tenure is a “barrier to eliminating bad teachers,” while only 22 percent believe teacher tenure is necessary for job protection. An overwhelming 90 percent of registered voters say teachers should be tested for their reading and math proficiency.

Virtually all (95 percent) parents of minor children support teacher testing, while 59 percent oppose merit-based pay and 73 percent see tenure as a barrier to removing bad teachers. “Those in households with children under 18 are a little less likely to oppose merit pay and somewhat more likely to see tenure as a barrier,” said Redlawsk. “Those closest to the system see its problems more directly, but still do not support key parts of the Christie plan.”

Republicans and Democrats agree: don’t base pay on test scores

Sixty-eight percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents oppose linking teacher salaries to pupil test scores. At the same time, even a strong majority (60 percent) of Democrats see tenure as a barrier to removing bad teachers, rather than an important job protection. Even more Republicans (80 percent) and independents (75 percent) agree. Just 29 percent of Democrats, 15 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of independents see tenure as an important job protection.

Support for teacher testing in math and reading also crosses party lines: 86 percent of Democrats, 92 percent of Republicans, and 94 percent of independents think teachers should be required to pass reading and math tests to be certified.

“While Democrats and Republicans may differ on state spending for education, there is remarkable agreement across parties on other issues,” Redlawsk said. “The governor’s idea for merit pay gets little support across the board, but members of both parties agree with testing teachers and are dubious about tenure.”

Diverse thoughts about problems in education

Asked to name New Jersey education’s most pressing problem in their own words – before hearing other questions on the subject – registered voters come up with many ideas, Redlawsk observed. About 20 percent says budget issues, while 15 percent names teacher-related issues, including high salaries and benefits, and teacher proficiency. In this group a small percentage (2%) says teacher shortages.

Another 8 percent call the New Jersey Education Association (or “teachers’ union”) the most important problem, 5 percent say “bureaucracy” and 4 percent focus on class size. Only 3 percent cite teacher tenure as the most important problem.

One in four parents (26 percent) sees budgets as the biggest problem in education, with another 17 percent citing teacher-related issues. Just 8 percent of parents call the NJEA the biggest problem in education.

Democrats and Republicans view the biggest problem differently: 25 percent of Democrats cite budget issues while only 16 percent of Republicans agree, along with 20 percent of independents. Twenty percent of Democrats, 14 percent of Republicans, and 11 percent of independents cite teachers as the biggest problem facing education in New Jersey. Republicans are much more likely to name the NJEA as the problem, by a 13 percent to 3 percent margin over Democrats; 11 percent of independents think the NJEA is the biggest problem facing education in the state today.

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