Half of Virginians Dis Public Schools in Workforce Preparation

Click graph for more legible image. Image credit: L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

A slim plurality of Virginians — 47% — believe that their public high schools are “doing a bad job” in providing skills that will be useful in obtaining a job, according to a poll published Sunday by Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Forty-five percent graded schools as doing a “good job” and 8% did not know.

The negative appraisal of public schools was most intense in the “South Central” region (which includes the Richmond metropolitan area) and in Hampton Roads, and the most positive in Western Virginia and Northern Virginia, with Northwestern Virginia falling between the two extremes. In the South Central region, 62% of respondents rated public schools poorly; in Tidewater the response was 61% negative.

The poll, a random sample of 802 adults in Virginia conducted by landline and cell telephone from July 10-30, has a margin of error of 3.49 percentage points. The poll also surveyed Virginians about their attitude toward higher education, which I will highlight in a future post.

When pollsters drilled into specifics, Virginians expressed the most confidence in the ability of public high schools to do a good job producing graduates in scientific fields, such as engineering, math and technology: 57% positive compared to 33% negative.

Respondents were more ambivalent about high schools’ track record in preparing students to be “engaged citizens” and developing students’ writing and communications skills.

By age, the 45- to 64-year-old grouping was consistently the most skeptical. By education level, the “some college” group was consistently the most skeptical. By party affiliation, Republicans were significantly more dubious than Democrats and Republicans: 63% of Republicans think public schools are doing a bad job of providing useful workplace skills, compared to 38% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans.

Whites were slightly more skeptical of the value of a public school education than minorities, although the difference was not large. There was little consistent difference between the attitudes of parents and non-parents of public school students.

Bacon’s bottom line: Surveys that provide a binary choice, like this one, irritate me. Either schools are doing a “good job” or a “bad job” with no room for ambivalence, which many people undoubtedly feel. With that caveat aside, it’s an indictment of the public school system when a plurality of respondents say the schools are doing a poor job at equipping Virginia’s children with the skills they need to participate in the workforce —  a searing indictment in the case of South Central and Hampton Roads.

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8 responses to “Half of Virginians Dis Public Schools in Workforce Preparation”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    With an 800 sample statewide be very careful about giving too much weight to those regional subset numbers. But what struck me was the partisan divide on several questions, with self-identified Republicans and independents substantially more negative on school quality. I look out the window and the parking lot at the private school next door is filled with activity as another year of white flight from Richmond regional public systems begins….think that might have something to do with those regional patterns, Jim?

    Of course the person who wrote it up for The Republican Standard focused on whether or not graduates were judged to be “engaging” as opposed to the poll’s word: “engaged.” Bit of a difference there. Public school grad, I guess.


    1. Interesting…sounds like a good litmus test, how you feel about our society. I would tend to take the bait.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      On poll sampling in general…there are ways to validate the data. For instance, we already know from many prior polls a lot of the demographics like percent of people who are Dem, GOP, independent… even for regions… so for a given poll.. it’s important when they provide answers to questions that have to do with demographics – that the sample in terms of the percent of Dem, GOP and Independent is consistent with prior polls taken,

      Let’s say two polls were taken – across Virginia and one question on the first poll was about education and on the second poll it was about MedicAid and the answers on both were broken out in terms of Dem, GOP and Independent responses.

      Did BOTH poll encounter the same percent of Dems, GOP and Independents ? If they did – the results are probably solid. If they did not and/or they ignored it and just developed their own demographic sample – the results may – at the very least – show seemingly inconsistencies..

      GOOD polls, in general, can and do ask the same question different ways to make sure the answers are consistent – i.e. respondents did truly understand the intent of the wording…

      on a point made by an earlier comment – I did not see this poll as asking about the quality of high school education in Va – per se – but rather how high school compared to college in preparing one for a job. It’s sort of a “duh” type question that unfortunately can be misinterpreted – sometimes innocently and sometimes by folks who want to purposely do it to claim something that is simply not the case.

      If you REALLY wanted to do that – you’d not include any college options in the question at all.. the content would be purely about high school themselves and my guess is in you asked if a high school education prepared one for a job – and stopped right there -you’d get totally differently percentages than if you asked it as a comparative with college education.

      You could go one step further – if you wanted to ask the high school question with regard to public high schools in Va verses private high schools or..schools in other states ..or schools in other countries…

      THEN – you MAY WELL have some legitimate observable differences on a political/philosophical basis…

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” But what struck me was the partisan divide on several questions, with self-identified Republicans and independents substantially more negative on school quality.”

    I would have liked to see questions about what the respondents actually knew about the programs offered locally.

    I’m not surprised that Republicans answered negatively as it’s been a standard talking point and many of them favor private schools….anyhow.

    A second question would be to ask what should be done to improve the programs……

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    oops.. wait a minute: Here’s the top of the Poll:

    RICHMOND, Va. (Aug. 16, 2018) — A majority of Virginians see two-year community colleges and four-year public universities as worth the cost, according to a new statewide poll by the L. Douglas Wilder

    The poll found 80 percent agreed strongly or somewhat that community colleges are worth the cost,while 66 percent said the same about public four-year schools. By contrast, only 49 percent ofrespondents agreed strongly or somewhat that private four-year schools are worth the cost, while 48
    percent disagreed strongly or somewhat.”

    That’s way different than what was said in the blog post…


    Respondents overwhelmingly saw Community colleges in a positive light.

    Then they went on to ask if college was comparatively better than high school in preparing for the workforce.

    I’m looking at the same poll (I think) and getting a totally different view of it… geeze

    1. Oh, wait a minute, here’s what I said in my post: “The poll also surveyed Virginians about their attitude toward higher education, which I will highlight in a future post.”

      Wait until tomorrow.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Actually they did not treat them as independent issues… at all.. and separating them takes them out of context.

        They Poll was about education and workforce – in the context of the relative choices 4yr college, 2yr college and high school.

        In fact – they did not even mention High School at all in the first slide. They looked at Higher Ed choices.

        Lord.. we get very different views from this.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    Having gone off and read the actual poll (which I should have from the get go), this Poll is not about the good or bad of High Schools per se. It’s about education for the workforce and it includes 4yr college – public and private, 2 yr community college and High School.

    In THAT context – I think a good number of people would consider High School to be inferior to Community College and 4 yr in getting an education that would get one a job. That’s not a negative view.. it’s just a pragmatic one.

    I think especially so in this day and time – when more than a few folks think that students need to go on further than high school – because the education requirements of jobs has increased. The jobs that High Schools can train kids for – that they could expect to get a job – with just a HS diploma – are shrinking… jobs like Hospital Techs, law enforcement, even HVAC and auto now require MORE than a lot of high schools can deliver.

    What you need from High School is a high quality education in things like Reading Comprehensive, the ability to articulate in writing , AND the ability to enter college as a Freshman without having to take remediation courses.

    I don’t think this Poll is about how “bad” public High Schools are as much as it is a generalized inquiry about education, what is needed, and where to go get it.

    Most High School with the exception of NoVa are not going to give a kid “enough” to get more than a basic entry level job in the “trades” or retail or food service. Even way out in the boonies – kids are urged to go to Community College after high school… to get a “technical” education.

    We have to stop with the negative hammering of our institutions and work to reform and improve them. Just hammering our institutions without speaking about how to improve is just destructive… it just divides people further and encourages a “burn it all down” mindset -that we already have way too much of.

    We used to be an optimistic -hopeful country -where we knew we had problems and challenges but we were on task to make them better.. Now, we have a significant number of people who basically want to tear down and destroy and it’s to all our detriment. It’s just bad karma.

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