Poll: Grade inflation?

Even with compelling evidence that student performance is slipping, Minnesotans still love their schools.

Minnesotans love their system of public education, despite persuasive evidence that schools are consistently underperforming their reputation.

The survey was conducted by pollster Rob Autry, president and founder of Meeting Street Research based in Charleston, South Carolina. His company completed 500 phone interviews, with a mix of cell phones (40 percent) and landline phones (60 percent), on March 5 and 7, 2020. The margin of error is ±4.38 percent.

Meeting Street executed its study alongside a troubling report by American Experiment Policy Fellow Catrin Wigfall, “Allergic to Accountability,” which appears on page 26. In the article, based on her larger report, Wigfall concludes that regardless
of historic accolades, Minnesota’s schools suffer “educational disparities and shortcomings that have not disappeared despite decades of increased spending.”

Minnesotans haven’t yet absorbed that message, according to the Thinking Minnesota Poll. they award schools high marks for performance across the board, paying scant attention to the return on investment from blaming parents for the growing achievement gap in schools. By wide margins, respondents assessed the performance of public schools with either an “A” or “B” letter grade, reserving the highest praise for their local schools. Fifty-nine percent of state schools received an “A” or “B” from Minnesotans, with 24 percent receiving a “C.” Local schools fared even better: 66 percent “A” or “B,” with just 19 percent getting a “C.”

School Spending

Minnesotans appear unperturbed about the vast gap between how much money they thought the state of Minnesota spends and how much is actually spent. When asked to give an “educated guess” about how much money the state spends on education per student each year, the median answer was $3,000. When told the state spends about $13,000 per student per yeas, 41 percent of respondents thought the amount was “about right.” only 20 percent thought it was too much.

On top of this, Minnesotans favor increased spending on education by wide margins. Overall, they support further outlays of government money by 67 percent to 24 percent. Democrats are happiest of all groups with the performance they are getting on government expenditures on education (68 percent to 23 percent). Approval from Republicans (55 percent to 40 percent) and independents (53 percent to 41 percent) shows more constraint, but they still approve of the ROI by wide margins.

Achievement Gap

Respondents acknowledge Minnesota’s much-publicized disparity in academic performance among groups of students, but they primarily place the blame on parents and environment over classroom activities. Seventy-nine percent recognize that it is a problem (39 percent “big problem,” 40 percent “moderate problem,”). Among a wide array of potential contributors to the gap, a plurality (41 percent) attribute the issue of “family background and home environment.”

Early Learning

Minnesotans express high levels of bipartisan support for the Early Learning Scholarship program, 77 percent to 21 percent generally. The highest support comes from Democrats, 94 percent to 5 percent; next comes Independents, 78 percent to 20 percent, and then Republicans, 58 percent to 38 percent.

All told, the results reveal “a clear disconnect between the data on how Minnesota’s public schools perform and the perceptions of most Minnesotans about those schools,” according to John Hinderaker, president of Center of the American Experiment. “Even though test scores show our public schools are failing many of our students, Minnesotans continue to support public schools, mostly uncritically.”

“Our polling reflects that most people think that if there are issues with the schools, the solution is to spend more money, even though history tells us that won’t get the job done,” he added. “In short, we have a long way to go to educate Minnesotans on this issue.”