Last Sunday The Charlotte Observer ran an editorial, Lawmakers, listen: People say education deserves better. It reported on the findings of a survey (The Public Schools Our Children Deserve?) by two UNC-Wilmington education professors Robert Smith and Scott Imig. The authors of the survey found that respondents don’t much like the policies of the Republican legislature.
Observer editors parroted some of the survey’s findings:
…respondents overwhelmingly disapprove of the direction public education is headed in the state. More than 94 percent said North Carolina was headed in the wrong direction on education. A sample of the comments: “These laws will not improve N.C. public education, but destroy it.” “We have two children enrolled in public schools now, and have witnessed firsthand the exodus of quality teachers and the swelling of class sizes… we will be paying attention to candidates’ attitudes, statements, and actions… and will vote accordingly.”
And editors reported the intensity of the animosity.
Respondents were particularly dissatisfied with legislators’ action on teacher pay, teacher tenure, master’s degree changes, vouchers and rewarding only 25 percent of the state’s teachers. Lawmakers gave teachers no salary bump last year, the fourth time in five years teachers got no pay increase. More than 94 percent of survey respondents said raising teacher pay should be lawmakers’ top priority. More than 78 percent disagreed with lawmakers’ decision to eliminate teacher tenure. Ninety-six percent think teachers should get extra pay for earning a master’s degree; lawmakers eliminated that. More than 85 percent disagreed with the state providing vouchers for families to attend private schools; 76 percent disapproved of giving annual pay raises to just 25 percent of N.C. teachers, designated as the top teachers.
And editors urged lawmakers to listen to the “people”. The editors however didn’t have a problem with not disclosing how the poll was conducted. A visit to the methods section of the survey is instructive.
The purpose of this study was to gather opinion data from North Carolina citizens on recent education policies passed by the NC Legislature. This document offers findings from a quantitative survey of residents of North Carolina. Participants completed the survey online. A link to this survey was shared with mulitple PTA organizations across North Carolina and it was posted on multiple websites, including personal Facebook and Twitter pages and the Charlotte ObserverFacebook page. In addition, individual respondents also forwarded and/or posted the survey link. The survey was opened on January 23, 2014 and closed on February 10, 2014.
So let’s start with the obvious, the findings are far from scientific a scientific poll. A full 62 percent of respondents said they had been employed by the a public school (either currently or previously). Eighty-five percent of the respondents were women and almost half (45 percent) of respondents had family ncomes above $80,000.
Sharing a survey with multiple PTA organizations and posting to multiple websites or Facebook pages — including the Charlotte Observer — does little to ensure a representative sample and a lot to ensure you get the response you want.
No editors did not say the poll was scientific. Neither did they say anything about the questionable methodology — or about a December 2013 poll by the same authors that surveyed teachers and administrators about legislative changes but used a similar and questionable methodology .
Of course public school teachers, administrators and supporters have a right to advocate for their concerns and to make their opinion known. However supporters or editors don’t have a right to misrepresent those opinions simply because they disagree with the policies.