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Rutgers Eagleton: Education in NJ Looking Up Under Murphy, For The Most Part

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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The vast majority of parents who currently have children in the state’s public school system are highly satisfied with the quality of education their child receives: 80 percent say their child’s school is doing an “excellent” or “good” job. Public school parents are also quite positive about the quality of teachers and administrators, safety, school facilities and equipment, and the amount of individual attention their child gets.

However, by a margin of 52 percent to 6 percent, more public school parents feel there is “too much” rather than “too little” standardized testing in their child’s school. These are some of the main findings from a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll late last year, as part of the “2018 State of the Garden State” series.

“Quality education has always been a hallmark of New Jersey, and parents’ ratings confirm why the state is repeatedly recognized at a national level for its schools,” said Dr. Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “Yet behind these high marks, there are undoubtedly deeper differences by key factors like socioeconomic status and region, differences we know exist in New Jersey but can only be studied with much larger samples.”

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This Rutgers-Eagleton Poll contacted 1,203 adults by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Nov. 15-27, 2017, including a subsample of 318 parents of children attending schools in New Jersey and 265 parents of children attending public schools in the state.

The total sample has a margin of error of +/-3.0 percentage points; the parents of children in school subsample has a margin of error of +/-5.9 percentage points, and the public school parent subsample has a margin of error of +/-6.4 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.

Familiarity with the school spurs greater positivity

Statewide, 38 percent of public school parents say the specific school their oldest child attends is doing an “excellent” job, and another 42 percent say it is doing a “good” job; 14 percent say their child’s school is doing only a “fair” job, and just 5 percent rate their school’s performance as “poor.”

Public school parents have a similar take on schools in their community, overall: 70 percent rate their local schools as doing an “excellent” or “good” job, 20 percent say they are doing only a “fair” job, and just 9 percent say “poor.” Public school parents are much more critical when it comes to assessing schools throughout New Jersey.

While a majority (59 percent) say schools across the state are doing an “excellent” or “good” job, this is far less than how these parents rate schools closer to home. Public school parents are twice as likely to express a negative view about New Jersey schools, in general, than they are about their child’s own school.

Large majorities satisfied with key aspects of education

The Poll found high levels of parental satisfaction in all five aspects that it asked about regarding the school a parent’s child attends. More than eight in 10 public school parents (85 percent) rated their child’s safety at school as “excellent” or “good,” followed by just over three quarters who give such ratings to the quality of education their child is receiving (78 percent) and the quality of teachers and administrators (77 percent).

Slightly fewer give positive ratings for their school’s facilities and equipment (71 percent) and the amount of individual attention their child is given (68 percent). Ratings are similar when parents with children in all types of school – whether public, private, charter, or other – are included.

Parents divided on need for standardized testing but not on the current amount

Standardized testing is particularly controversial among the state’s public school parents, who are strongly divided on whether students should be required to pass some sort of standardized test in order to graduate.

While 55 percent believe it should be a graduation requirement, 44 percent do not. When public school parents are combined with parents who have children in other types of schools, this combined group is slightly more in favor of standardized testing (57 percent to 42 percent).

There is no such division on the amount of standardized testing being given in the public school system. The majority of parents – 52 percent – feel there is too much standardized testing in their child’s school. Just six percent believe there is too little testing, while the remaining 39 percent feel there is just the right amount.

When parents with children in something other than public school are added to the mix, this combined group is slightly less likely than public school parents alone to feel there is too much standardized testing (44 percent) and instead slightly more likely to say it is just the right amount (46 percent).

“Governor Murphy has repeatedly promised to get rid of PARCC tests,” said Koning. “And while public school parents are somewhat divided on whether or not such testing should be required, they would certainly like to see less of it.”

Ratings among all New Jerseyans slightly lower than parents but still positive

In addition to parents, the entire statewide sample was asked to rate the jobs public schools are doing statewide and in their communities. The ratings given by the general public are slightly lower than the ratings given by parents with children in schools.

Statewide, 12 percent of all New Jersey residents say the state’s public school system is doing an “excellent” job and 39 percent a “good” one. On the negative side, 27 percent believe New Jersey schools are doing an “only fair” job and 16 percent say they are “poor,” with the remainder offering no opinion.

New Jerseyans are more positive about schools in their own community, regardless of whether or not they have a child attending one of them: 25 percent say they are doing an “excellent” job and 36 percent a “good” one. On the other hand, 21 percent of residents believe their local school district is doing an “only fair” job, and 13 percent say “poor.”

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