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Friday, December 12, 2014

UNF responds to questions about the JPEF/UNF survey.

First I would like to thank Micheal Binder of UNF for getting back to me. I asked him to respond to the piece about the UNF/JPEF public awareness poll.

Note: I sent him a rough draft version of below, and yes it might seem like everything I write is rough, the content though is the same just a little tightened up. Professor Binder's responses are in bold.

Usually these polls give confidence intervals, they say things like, we are 95 percent confident that the answers are within plus or minus 4 percentage points. It gives them some wiggle room in case something is totally wrong. 

The margin of error for the entire survey was 4.38 percentage points.  It's not "wiggle room", it is the statistics of the sampling procedure.

Well when reading the poll a couple questions jumped out at me.

Did you vote in the most recent election, 72 percent yes, 28 percent no.  Well according to the supervisor of elections a little less than fifty percent of people voted. That’s one of those questions people might be embarrassed to answer truthfully especially if they didn’t so I guess begrudgingly we can give this question a pass.   

 There's two pieces to this.  First, you are correct.  There is likely a social desirability bias upping the reported number of voters.  Second, there is also likely a little bit of a selection issue as well.  Folks that are more likely to vote are also more likely to pick up their phone and agree to take the survey.  These numbers aren't very different than any other survey you'll see. 

The next question was, are you in support of Common Core, it was worded awkwardly but that was the gist. 62.4 percent of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that common core was a good idea. Well if that’s the case then Jacksonville is one of the last bastions of Common Core support. A lot of polls have shown support for common core plummeting and even the ultra-pro-common core Education Next group reported support had dropped to 53 percent nationwide though it was much lower among teachers.

Okay just a ten percent swing, outside the margin of error but hey maybe we love common core here. 

 My response to this is again two-fold.  It is possible that folks like common core more here than elsewhere, but I'd likely suggest another explanation.  Question wording in surveys matters, and it matters even more so when asking about issues that the adults aren't well versed in. Common Core is one of those issues people have limited information about.  People like being able to compare their students to other students, that described explained in our survey question.  I suspect if we simply said "common core" and didn't explain that is was comparative standards the support would have been markedly lower. 

The next question was about holding teachers and schools accountable based on standards. Nearly 62 percent of the people agreed that was a great or good idea. But the poll never asked the same question about holding them accountable based on high stakes testing, which is both more accurate about how things are done and has been a huge issue lately. There are question about the business community, non-profits and Alvin Brown but nothing on testing? The Mel Gibson Conspiracy Theory part of me thinks they didn’t want to know the answer because it would have been dreadful, but I will save that for the next question.   

The next question was about open enrollment, which asked if your child should be able to go to any school in any part of town. A whopping 77.1 percent of the people thought this was a great or good idea and I will admit it sounds very attractive, the problem is it falls apart when any critical thinking is applied,

but why this question? Where is the question about high stakes testing, teacher pay, charter schools, Teach for America, vouchers or a whole host of seemingly more important issues?

Nowhere to be found that’s where.

I believe it’s because the JPEF and district are setting us up for a spring push to start open enrollment in the 15-16 school year. The JPEF recently recommended it in their school choice study and now the district can go, hey remember that survey we did a couple months back? We’re just doing what the people want us to do. Which would be ironic because another question asked if the board listened to public opinion and 55 percent of the respondents said either no or hell no.  

That is interesting conjecture.  Those aren't questions or comments that I know the answer to.  As the the Faculty Director for the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at UNF, we worked with JPEF in constructing the survey, question wording and order of the questions.  The content they wanted to ask about had to be balanced against the amount of questions we can actually ask — the survey ran about 15 minutes as it was.  I would direct those questions to JPEF.

I could review/question about a half dozen more questions but I’m going to do just one more. When asked where money from a potential new tax should go to there were a whole host of options, improving technology which is the supers favorite and safety which I am sure is parents were the two most popular options, but an option that wasn’t offered was to spend the money on human capital.  How about higher salaries for teachers or heck just hiring more teachers to comply with the class size amendment, something open enrollment goes around. How about using it to hire art, music and P.E. teachers which is what Palm Beach does with it’s special tax. Nope hiring more or paying better the people doing the actual educating wasn’t even mentioned and I believe that’s because to the district and the JPEF, we’re after thoughts.

 Again, I would direct that question to JPEF.   I could venture guesses, none of which are as Machiavellian as you're implying, but they would simply be guesses. 

I am sure there are people at the UNF Public Opinion Research Laboratory who could explain why they asked this question and why they left one that out. I am sure they can explain why they worded questions the way they did too. The real problem however is the influence that came from who they were working with.

The JPEF board is made up of common core loving, charter school running, high stakes testing supporters and it would be beyond the pale to think the people paying the bills don’t have any influence. These are the same people that though the QEA has hijacked democracy which has partnered with UNF to run the new teacher residency program, which may or may not be unraveling as we speak. This morning’s piece on NPR was a little vague but did mention that 2 out of the 13 member first class didn’t survive the first semester.

I am a proud graduate of UNF but when I see this poll the best I can do is give a slight nod to its veracity while I question its independence and I can’t help but think that if they were left to their own devices the questions and results might be totally different and probably more honest too.  

I am unable to comment on any teacher residency program or "QEA", since I have no idea what that is.  All I can say is that the survey was conducted entirely within our facilities.  The only influence JPEF had was on putting together some question wording.  

We executed the survey and sent them the data without any interference or even a hint that they had any preference for what the results actually said. 

If you have any more technical survey questions I'd be happy to answer them for you. 


Michael Binder, Ph.D.Assistant Professor, Political Science

To see the poll so you can make your own judgments click the link:

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