Pew Poll Finds Markedly Lower Ratings for Philadelphia's Public School District

  • September 17, 2013

About

A new poll commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts finds that Philadelphians have a very low opinion of their city's financially distressed public school district and that most residents think the resulting problems will drive families to seek other educational options or leave the city.

Only 18 percent of the Philadelphians surveyed said the schools are doing a good or excellent job. Seventy-eight percent described the schools as “only fair” or poor, and 52 percent of all respondents rated them poor.

“In the five years we at Pew have polled the city, the school system's ratings have never been high,” says Larry Eichel, a director of Pew's Philadelphia Program. “But these are the lowest yet.”
Parents with children in district-run schools gave the public system slightly higher marks: Twenty-three percent of them described the schools as good or excellent.

Residents were split on whom to blame for the district's current funding crisis. Thirty-one percent said Mayor Michael Nutter and the City Council bear the most responsibility, while the same percentage put the blame on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and the state legislature. Twenty-one percent blamed school administrators and the School Reform Commission. And 11 percent named the labor unions representing teachers and other school employees.

As a result of the district's budget difficulties, 48 percent of Philadelphians said they expect families to seek other education options within the city, and 23 percent expect families to start leaving. Twenty percent said the school situation will make little difference to residents.

Among Philadelphians who expect to move out in 5 to 10 years, 23 percent named schools and child-upbringing issues as a primary reason for departing. This was one of the most frequently cited factors for residents wanting to leave, along with job and career (29 percent), plus crime and safety (25 percent).

Concern about the schools showed up in other ways as well. For instance, large majorities of Philadelphians said they would recommend the city as a good place for college students, for young adults, and for older adults with no children. But only 44 percent said they would endorse the city as a place to raise children.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded and independently run, remain a popular option for families. By a ratio of more than 2-1, respondents chose a positive description of charters over a negative one. Sixty-four percent agreed that the schools “improve education options and help keep middle-class families in the city,” while 26 percent chose the negative perception, that charters “take too much money away from the public schools and lack sufficient oversight.”

About the Survey

The Pew survey was conducted by telephone between July 23 and Aug. 13, 2013, among a citywide random sample of 1,605 city residents age 18 and older. Interviews were conducted with 530 landline users and 1,075 cellphone users to reach a broad representative sample of Philadelphians.

The final sample was weighted to reflect the demographic breakdown of the city. The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, record error, and respondent error.

Abt SRBI Public Affairs designed the survey and conducted all interviewing, working with Cliff Zukin, a veteran pollster and professor of public policy and political science at Rutgers University.
This report was written by Larry Eichel, who oversees Pew's Philadelphia research initiative.

Read more and access the report PDF on our website.

About The Pew Charitable Trusts

The Pew Charitable Trusts is a nonprofit organization that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and stimulate civic life. Pew's Philadelphia research initiative provides timely, impartial research and analysis on key issues facing Philadelphia for the benefit of the city's citizens and leaders.  www.pewtrusts.org/philaresearch

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