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In Poll, Parents Give Teachers Extra Credit

Wednesday, September 07, 2011 - 06:45 AM

One-third of New Yorkers are satisfied with how Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is handling education in New York City, and most New Yorkers say the quality of city public schools has stagnated or deteriorated under his leadership, according to a New York Times poll released Tuesday.

But though the poll’s results were tough on Mr. Bloomberg, giving him a lower rating on his signature issue of education than for his job performance as a whole, one group of public employees came out comparatively smelling like roses: teachers.

New Yorkers’ opinions of teachers appear to have improved in the last seven years, the poll showed. In 2004, 22 percent of poll respondents said teachers were the best thing about their child’s public school. This year, 34 percent called teachers the best thing, and more parents answered "teachers" than anything else both times. (The runner-up answer this year was “location” at 6 percent.)

Parents also said the most important factor in selecting a school was the quality of its teachers (36 percent), followed by its grade on the city’s report card (21 percent), then the programs it offers (15 percent).

In the documentary “Waiting for Superman” and in Steven Brill’s new book, “Class Warfare,” the public has heard that teaching quality is the most crucial problem of the moment for public schools. But New Yorkers also named other issues for their city's schools. Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott’s main priority, respondents said, should be getting more money for the schools (26 percent), dealing with class size and overcrowding (25 percent), and improving teacher quality (22 percent).

Similarly, efforts to blame the failures of public school on unions, and by extension, teachers, have not been landing in New York City, the poll showed. While 55 percent don’t have an opinion,a quarter of New Yorkers said they had a favorable opinion of the local teachers’ union, compared with 16 percent who had an unfavorable opinion.

After the poll was conducted, reporters reinterviewed several public school parents who were satisfied with their child’s school, and Mr. Bloomberg’s handling of education, to find out why. The quality of teaching was a common thread.

“My daughter is in first grade and a lot of things she knows and tasks she can complete I wasn’t able to do in first grade,” said Isaiah Brown, 23, a security guard from Morris Heights in the Bronx. “I don’t know if it has anything to do with Bloomberg; he’s not in the classroom. But teachers seem more dedicated now.”

Takeisha Hall-Ruff, 36, of the Bronx, said: “My 8-year-old daughter is in a school for the gifted and talented. The school has a strong curriculum and the teachers are very committed. They go the extra mile and challenge the students.”

Khrishon Jones, 37, of Washington Heights in Manhattan, said: “My son is 9 and going into the fourth grade. He is doing very well in public school and I love his teachers. I like that you can go in and look at the child’s grade and talk to the teacher.”

There were also parents who praised Mr. Bloomberg over all, even though, as the poll showed, they remain in the minority.

Candith Jackson, 37, a loan officer from Queens, said she appreciated how quickly Mr. Bloomberg removed Cathleen P. Black, the former schools chancellor, when she turned out to be wrong for the job. “I like Bloomberg, I really do,” she said. “People say he’s hard, but that’s what it takes to run a city like New York. My son is just entering first grade, so I really don’t have too much experience with the system.” But, she added, “I am definitely happy with that school.”

The poll was conducted Aug. 9 to 15 with telephone interviews of 1,027 adults throughout New York City. Of respondents, 287 identified themselves as parents, and 167 said they were parents of a child in public school. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points for all adults, plus or minus 6 percentage points for all parents, and plus or minus 8 percentage points for public school parents.

Marina Stefan and Allison Kopicki contributed reporting.

Editor's Note: This post has been changed to correct the source of the poll.

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