Surveys Suggest That Media Are Too Negative on Schools Merger

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Two broad-based surveys indicate that Memphians and, to a lesser extent, suburban residents of Shelby County, are more open to a unified school district than media reports, blogs, and public comments make it seem. The surveys were done by Yacoubian Research to assist the Transition Planning Commission.

There is a downloadable version of the community survey here and a downloadable version of the survey of teachers and administrators here.

The community survey was done by telephone and got 1,218 responses. The staff survey was done by email and got 2,213 replies. Both of them are detailed and, therefore, hard to summarize. But readers willing to look at them will find a somewhat more sympathetic view of unification than is typically presented in public forums and news media comment sections, which can be dominated by anonymous individuals with a strong point of view, usually anti-Memphis City Schools.

"The majority of citizens are not pessimistic about the merger," says the introduction to the community survey. Having said that, 30-40 percent of respondents said they would either move away from a unified district after August, 2013, or are "not sure" if they would stay or move.

In the staff survey, MCS employees (1,224 of the total) and Shelby County Schools employees (984 of the total) differed starkly in their evaluations of the two systems. Only 31 percent of MCS employees rated their system good to excellent, and 7 percent rated it failed/poor. In the county school system, 95 percent rated SCS good to excellent and not a single respondent gave the system a failing grade.

MCS superintendent Kriner Cash was rated good to excellent by 17 percent of respondents, while SCS superintendent John Aitken got those marks from 43 percent of respondents.

In defense of professional commenters and reporters, we base our work on multiple interviews, personal experience and observation, readings, and attendance at schools meetings around the community over the last two years or longer. Reporting on public meetings presents a problem if one side or the other dominates the comment period. These Yacoubian surveys are a much bigger sample and worth a look. As a reader, the choice is yours.

Final observation: the term "failing schools," as this piece in the American Journalism Review notes, is carelessly overused and, according to these surveys, inaccurate to the extent it suggests that all public schools in Memphis or other urban areas are failing.

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