School Discipline and Overcrowding Top Public Concerns

CSLI Press Release

 

According to a poll conducted by the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College, more than a fifth (21%) of the respondents cited discipline as the top problem facing county schools. Almost an equal number (19%) cited overcrowding as the most important issue, followed by inadequate funding (16%), problems with standards or curriculum (12%) and lack of safety or presence of drugs (9%). Problems with teachers was mentioned by some respondents (8%) as were poor or inadequate classroom materials (3%) and disorganization or poor coordination between county government and the school board (2%).

The survey also included a series of proposals relevant to public schools which were mentioned to respondents who could then say whether the proposal would "improve," "hurt," or "have no effect," on the quality of education. Judging by the percentage of respondents saying "improve," a few proposals were widely supported. These included "adding teaching aides in the classroom" (91%), reducing class size (89%), "giving teachers more power when dealing with disruptive or violent students" (86%), "emphasize a return to basics approach to education," "providing more assistance to special education" (85%), "encouraging flexibility in teaching methods," and "increasing teachersí salaries" (82%).

Also obtaining significant support were "starting some countywide Ďmagnetí schools emphasizing science, math or culture" (79%), "creating a special high school for disruptive students" (76%), "increasing local community control over schools (69%), "providing more elective courses in higher grades" (66%). Receiving somewhat less support were "reduce the size of central administration" (62%), "allow more variety in the curriculum" (60%), "change the school board selection process" (60%), "provide more financial assistance to schools performing poorly on standardized tests" (55%), and "introduce school prayers" (52%). Failing to obtain a majority in support were "placing some schools on a year round schedule" (48%) and "redistricting schools more frequently" (26%), with roughly equal percentages saying that each of these two proposals would "hurt" or "have no effect."

About 30% of the sample claimed to have children in Anne Arundel county schools. Surprisingly, according to the Centerís Director Dan Nataf, most issues did not show statistically significant differences between those who had children in school and those that didnít. Those who didnít have children in school were more likely to support some proposals like "year around schools" and to a lesser extent "magnet schools" while those with children in school were somewhat more likely to support smaller class sizes and more local control over schools. However, on a variety of other issues such as "increasing teachersí salaries," "more teaching aides," and a "special high school for disruptive students," the differences were insignificant.

The survey also asked the public to indicate the "most important problem facing the residents of Anne Arundel county at the present time." The results paralleled other recent polls conducted by the Center as over a quarter cited crime (26%), with a sizable minorities mentioning education (21%) and growth/transportation (18%). A much smaller number said taxes (8%), drugs (5%), the economy (5%) or government waste/budget (4%). When asked whether the Countyís property tax cap hurt local governmentís ability to provide services, a majority (56%) said it did not.

The questionnaire asked respondents which cultural events or attractions they had attended over the last year, with most saying historic sites (77%), concerts (63%), plays (56%), or art festivals (44%). Among cultural events or attractions respondents would like to see in their area, historic sites ranked very high (80%), followed at some distance by concerts (34%) or plays (32%). Responses varied somewhat by area, with Annapolis residents often saying they were "already blessed with these cultural attractions." Others said that they had to travel out of county and wished that more events were held within the county.

Most of the public held little enthusiasm for the new football stadiums to be built in Prince Georgeís County and Baltimore City, only 36% approving of legislation making these stadiums possible. According to the Centerís Director, Dan Nataf, support for the stadium was not related to party affiliation or ideology, but was related to age, with younger people (18-29) being less prone to disapprove the arrangement (51%) as opposed to those over 60 (75%). Men were also less likely to disapprove the projects (56%) as opposed to women (70%).

About equal numbers said that race relations in Maryland were "good" (21%) or "poor" (25%), with a majority saying that they were "fair" (54%).

According to Nataf, "the presidential horse race showed little change from the Centerís October 1995 poll, as Bill Clinton maintained a small but steady lead over challenger Bob Dole" (52% vs. 48%). Given the fact that Republican George Bush beat President Clinton by eight percent among the same respondents when they were asked for whom they voted in 1992, Clintonís strength over the last four years seems to have grown. Rather than a conversion of Republicans to Clinton, the key change seems among previously defecting conservative, moderate and 1992 Perot-voting Democrats who all showed a greater inclination to support Clinton in 1996. "Democrats seem to be more comfortable with their candidate" this cycle Nataf suggested.

 

The poll was conducted during the week of April 1-4 and included 450 respondents. It had an overall margin of error of five percent margin. The margin of error for subgroups was larger.