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Poll finds public support for BPS reform, charter schools

Liam Kerr | 4/17/2013, 8:24 a.m.

Female African American voters likely to vote in Boston this year favor charter schools by a huge margin, according to a recent poll.

The poll of 445 likely voters sponsored by Education Reform Now, a nonprofit group that supports President Obama’s agenda on education reform, was conducted in February before Mayor Thomas Menino announced he would not seek a sixth term.

The poll found overwhelming support for charter schools among city parents. Seventy-three percent of all 445 voters polled said they favor charter schools. But the percentage shot up to 89 percent among the African American women polled — compared to only 6 percent of African American women who expressed an unfavorable view of charter schools.

The poll has clear implications for the upcoming mayor’s race and legislation pending on Beacon Hill to expand charter schools. The legislation is necessary in order to lift a statewide cap on the number of charter schools allowed across Massachusetts.

In the words of President Obama, voters appear hungry for candidates who oppose “those who would defend an indefensible status quo.”

Voters of color in Boston also expressed dissatisfaction with the city’s shortest school day of any major city in the country. In fact, 44 percent said the school day in district schools is too short. Charter schools have longer school days than most district schools.

The poll also found that 53 percent of voters of color would prefer a charter school to a Boston Public Schools district school. And among those polled, parents were three times as likely to want to send their children to a charter school rather than a district school, with 21 percent choosing a district school.

Overall, those polled say education is the most important issue facing the city — triple the number who expressed that opinion in 2009 and ahead of crime and the economy.

The polling data was compared to earlier polls conducted from 2005 to 2009 for the Boston Globe and the University of New Hampshire. It has a 4.65 percent margin of error.

Despite the 2010 legislation on Beacon Hill that produced significant reforms and raised student achievement, the poll found what parents of color have long known: that city schools are in dire need of profound reform.

Among all voters polled, 7 in 10 said they want “major reforms” or a “complete overhaul” of the Boston Public Schools. But when the poll focused in on the voters of color, the proportion that sees the need for deep change rose to 3 out of 4 or a total of 76 percent.

The poll shows that voters care deeply about education and want leaders to do something significant to make change. That means candidates now must face scientific data that voters are not patient to wait for district schools to improve or political consensus on charter schools to arrive.

Just 1 in 5 parents with children under 18 said they would choose to send their children to Boston Public Schools over a charter school. And those parents prefer that the charter school be independently run rather than administered by the Boston Public School department.

More than 40 percent of the parents polled had considered moving out of Boston to send a child to a public school in another community for better educational prospects.

This is not a big surprise to Boston parents who know plenty of people who have fled the city for better schools and plenty more who wish they could. It is clear that urgent steps need to be taken to give children and their families more of the options they demand. Voters appear ready to demand as much of their next mayor.

Liam Kerr is the Massachusetts director of Education Reform Now.