Survey: Michigan citizens oppose education cuts above other areas, support higher math standards

May 2, 2011

Michigan citizens believe education is far and away the most important service to protect from state funding cuts, according to results from Michigan State University’s latest State of the State Survey.

When asked which areas should be shielded from reductions, 53 percent of respondents identified education – more than three times that of the next highest category (economic development at 17 percent). The results reflect a recent national poll by NBC News and Wall Street Journal in which 77 percent thought cuts to education were “totally unacceptable.”

“It’s extremely telling that, even in tough economic times, people understand the importance of education,” said William Schmidt, University Distinguished Professor of statistics and education, who commissioned an education section of the State of the State Survey. “It has really become evident to the public that education – and especially mathematics – is critical for the future.”

When asked whether the weak performance of U.S. students in math would affect economic growth, 70 percent indicated it would have a major effect.

Schmidt said citizens’ desire to protect education from cuts is likely related to the fact that two-thirds (67 percent) think Michigan’s K-12 public schools should be given a grade of C or below. Eighty percent also believe the relatively poor performance of U.S. students on international tests accurately reflects on the quality of the nation’s schools.

Other details reflecting perspectives about mathematics:

*56 percent consider math the most important subject in school.
*91 percent think U.S. children should be expected to learn as much math as students in the highest- achieving countries.
*80 percent believe their children’s future will be affected by how well they understand math.

Residents feel strongly that students should be challenged with a more rigorous math curriculum, even if it means more studying (94 percent), more homework (92 percent) or the risk of failure (90 percent).

At the high school level, large majorities said they want students to take math in every grade (78 percent) and think students should pass algebra I (93 percent), geometry (87 percent), algebra II (80 percent) and pre-calculus (59 percent) as a condition of graduation.

Schmidt said Michigan recently adopted a set of clear and consistent national education standards in math developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“These survey results make me very hopeful about the success of the new Common Core State Standards,” Schmidt said. “Now what we need is for the governor and the state legislature to follow through, to make sure the resources to make the Common Core a success for all children are in the budget. The majority of the public has spoken and it seems to be the right thing to do – both economically and morally.”

The winter-spring telephone survey of 979 residents, conducted by MSU’s Institute of Public Policy and Social Research, has a margin of error of 3.1 percent. The other services that residents thought should be most protected from state budget cuts include public health (15 percent), public safety (14 percent) and transportation (2 percent).