By Angela Bass, Deputy Director of Policy Mississippi First
Mississippi First released Mississippi Voices: Public Perception of Pre-K-12 Education in Mississippi, a report revealing public perceptions of the issues that Mississippi First supports as well as perceptions of the broader public education context in Mississippi. The project was a collaboration between Mississippi First and the Survey Research Laboratory at Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center with support from the Walton Family Foundation. The results have been eye-opening in understanding how the public could be better informed. The results also validated our work by showing that our areas of focus are issues that Mississippians care about and support.
Important findings from the report include the following:
- Almost none of the respondents could accurately estimate Mississippi public school funding. The vast majority of respondents in the sample did not know how much the state spent on public school funding per child each year. For those who said they knew how much the state spent on public school funding each year per child, the range of responses was quite varied, from $700 per pupil per year to $35,000 per pupil per year. Nonetheless, 26 percent of respondents chose insufficient funding as the most important issue facing public schools today.
- Respondents expressed strong support for standardized testing. 57 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that standardized tests should continue to be required each year in grades 3 through 8 and in high school.
- Respondents expressed strong support for common tests across states. 66 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the same standardized tests should be used in every state.
- A majority of respondents reported being “not at all familiar” with charter schools. 5 percent of respondents knew nothing about charter schools. White respondents were more likely to report some familiarity than non-white respondents. Wealthier respondents were also more likely to report some familiarity than low-income respondents.
- When given basic background information, respondents supported charter schools. 3 percent of respondents support having charter schools in Mississippi. Nearly 59 percent of respondents believe that charter schools would affect education positively in their community.
- Respondents expressed the strongest support for the importance of pre-K. Nearly 90 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that pre-K is important for preparing children for their continuing education. This was the strongest level of agreement for any of the agree/disagree questions that Mississippi First asked about any topic.
- Respondents expressed very strong support for the need for the state to fund pre-K. 83% percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that the state of Mississippi should fund pre-K in all school districts throughout the state.
Because the report looks at many different educational issues that Mississippi First focuses on, we will use the report in multiple ways. In general, we envision this document as an important guide in our communications planning. One of the ways we have already used the data is to generate focus group questions for charter school parents and traditional school parents about their perceptions of educational topics related to charter schools in Mississippi. We have recently conducted these focus groups, and we will use the data from both of these projects to create strategic charter school communications documents for charter schools and charter school advocacy groups in Mississippi.