MNPS has released results
(pdf format) of the survey of public school parents, faculty, and staff on whether to shift to a "balanced calendar"
starting with the 2008-09 academic year. In a nutshell: teachers like the idea, and parents and staff are deeply divided on it.
Among parents, 8,256 (45.3%) said they prefer a balanced calendar; 8,059 (44.3%) favored the existing "traditional" calendar; and 1,892 (10.4%) said they have no preference. Faculty supported the balanced calendar by a wide margin (71.2% to 25.2%). Staff members preferred the existing calendar by a small margin (47.7% to 45.0%). The essentially even division of opinion by parents appears not to differ appreciably by school level (elementary/middle/high). MNPS is also providing breakdowns by cluster that are not particularly enlightening.
These results point to a couple of immediate questions.
50,400 unique households in the system, is the response rate for student-parent households of roughly
36% adequate? This is not a very impressive response rate, but it could be regarded as adequate IF it can be shown that the characteristics of non-respondents and the characteristics of respondents (on key dimensions such as income, race, cluster, grade, etc.) do not differ statistically. Will MNPS provide that evidence? (UPDATE:
MNPS spokesman Woody McMillin tells Pith the answer is no, they are not examining the results for what statisticians call response bias. McMillan did provide us with the correct denominator--unique households--stimulating the response rate correction above.)
Second, if we take the survey as an accurate reflection of public opinion on the matter, is the school board inclined to make a major (and, for many, disruptive) change for which there is no serious empirical evidence connecting it to school performance, and that is favored by fewer than half the parents in the system? Will the board do something that teachers seem to want but parents don't?
The board decides on December 12. Let the lobbying commence.UPDATE:
The City Paper
is egregiously misreporting these results (more below the fold).
Here's the CP bulletin on its website
Error #1: Incorrect sample size reported. MNPS did not reach 23,000 households; that's the total number of responses, including faculty, staff, and student/family households. The number of households that responded is 18,207.
Error #2: Incorrect result reported. "Nearly 49 percent" refers to the total sample, which is inflated by the very high teacher support for a balanced calendar. Support for it among households was just 45 percent. Support for the existing calendar among student/family households was over 44 percent, not 42 percent. That might seem like a small difference, but there's a big difference between saying the balanced calendar outpolled the traditional calendar 49-42, as the CP suggests, and saying that the survey tally among parents is 45-44, which happens to be the truth.
Error #3: Incorrect conclusion drawn. The headline "Survey says Metro Schools needs a balanced calendar" is bizarre. The survey did not ask whether a balanced calendar was needed; it asked merely for personal preferences. Treating a survey finding support among fewer than half of parents as a demonstration of need borders on journalistic malpractice.