Providence City Survey, February 2001

Distributed February 13, 2001
For Immediate Release   
News Service Contact: Mark Nickel
Public opinion survey

Providence residents say public schools are moving in right direction

Providence residents give public schools mixed marks but approve their general direction, according to a survey conducted Feb. 3-6, 2001, at Brown University. Sixty-one percent of residents rate Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr.’s job performance excellent or good. Survey participants cite crime, ethics and corruption, violence and education as the most important problems facing the city.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Although Providence residents give Providence public schools mixed marks, according to a new survey conducted by researchers at Brown University, nearly half feel public schools are moving in the right direction. A large number believe the General Assembly should increase state funding for Providence schools.

The survey was conducted Feb. 3-6, 2001, by Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy, and Marion Orr, associate professor of political science, urban studies, and public policy. It was based on a citywide random sample of 463 adults in Providence. Overall, the poll had a margin of error of about plus or minus five percentage points. The survey was sponsored by the John Hazen White Sr. Public Opinion Laboratory and conducted as part of an upcoming Thomas J. Anton/Frederick Lippitt Conference on “The Future of Urban Schools” to be held Feb. 15-16 at Brown.

Editors: Survey questions and responses are included at the end of this release.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents rate Providence public schools excellent or good, 38 percent say they are only fair, 16 percent give these schools poor ratings, and 19 percent don’t know or have no answer. Among respondents whose children attended a public school, 45 percent give Providence public schools excellent or good marks, 34 percent say they were only fair, 16 percent give them poor marks, and 5 percent don’t know or have no answer.

Nearly half (45 percent) say that Providence public schools are headed in the right direction, while 28 percent report that these schools have gotten off on the wrong track. Thirty-seven percent give Providence School Superintendent Diana Lam excellent or good marks, 20 percent say she is doing only a fair job, 8 percent think her job performance is poor, and 35 percent are unsure.

Forty-nine percent think the General Assembly should increase state funding for Providence public schools by a lot, 29 percent believe funding should go up a little, 8 percent feel funding should not go up at all, and 14 percent were unsure what should be done with funding levels. Fifty-nine percent report that they think Providence public schools benefit the area’s economy.

President George W. Bush’s proposal for a federally financed school voucher program that would give public school parents $1,500 to send their child to a private school produces divided views. Whereas 49 percent of survey respondents say they support such a proposal, 40 percent do not, and 11 percent are unsure. However, Bush’s plan to allow a federal tax deduction of up to $5,000 to pay the educational expenses of children attending a private elementary or secondary school attracts stronger support. Fifty-six percent favor that plan, while 32 percent are opposed.

Large numbers of Providence residents support a variety of new educational initiatives. Sixty-six percent favor the creation of charter schools that would have greater flexibility in terms of rules and procedures. Eighty-one percent support smaller class sizes in public schools, even if it would mean that the cost of education would go up. The same number favor new teaching methods based on the latest research about how children learn, and 87 percent support introducing new technology, including computers and the Internet, into public school classrooms. Seventy-five percent support taxpayer-financed, after-school programs designed to add to the educational experience of public school students. Fifty-five percent say they favor a longer school year, but only 28 percent support a Providence residency requirement for public school teachers.

When asked to rate the job that teacher unions are doing in Providence public schools, 32 percent give them excellent or good marks, 25 percent indicate their job is only fair, 9 percent claim it is poor, and 34 percent express no opinion.

In other results, 61 percent indicate that Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. is doing an excellent or good job as mayor of Providence, 23 percent rate him only fair, 10 percent say his performance is poor, and 6 percent are unsure. These numbers are down from a comparable city survey in May 2000, when 67 percent gave Cianci excellent or good marks, 17 percent rated him only fair, 8 percent gave him poor marks, and 8 percent were undecided.

Sixty-one percent say they believe Providence is headed in the right direction, 28 percent believe it has gotten off on the wrong track, and 11 percent offer no opinion. In the May 2000 city survey, 68 percent believed the city was headed in the right direction, 20 percent thought it was on the wrong track, and 12 percent were unsure.

When asked what they thought was the most important problem facing the city of Providence, 21 percent cite crime; 11 percent say it is ethics and corruption; 10 percent name violence; 10 percent claim it is education; 5 percent each name roads and transportation, government performance, and taxes; 4 percent cite the police; 2 percent each say it is race, drugs, housing, poverty, and jobs and unemployment; 1 percent name the environment; and 1 percent say it is Cianci. All other problems mentioned were under 1 percent.

For more information, contact Darrell M. West at (401) 863-1163 .

Survey questions and responses

How satisfied are you with the overall quality of life in Providence? 29% very satisfied, 53% somewhat satisfied, 16% not very satisfied, 2% don’t know or no answer

Generally speaking, would you say things in Providence are going in the right direction or have they gotten off on the wrong track? 61% right direction, 28% wrong track, 11% don’t know or no answer

As far as you are concerned, what is the most important problem facing the city of Providence today? (open-ended responses coded into the following categories) 21% crime, 11% ethics and corruption, 10% violence, 10% education, 5% roads and transportation, 5% government performance, 5% taxes, 4% the police, 2% race, 2% drugs, 2% housing, 2% poverty, 2% jobs and unemployment, 1% the environment, 1% Mayor Cianci (all other problems mentioned were less than 1%)

How would you rate the job Buddy Cianci is doing as mayor? 18% excellent, 43% good, 23% only fair, 10% poor, 6% don’t know or no answer

How would you rate the job Buddy Cianci is doing with Providence public schools? 6% excellent, 29% good, 27% only fair, 16% poor, 22% don’t know or no answer

Do you have any children who are 18 years or age or younger? 36% yes, 63% no, 1% don’t know or no answer

If yes, do your children currently: 46% attend public schools only, 20% attend private schools only, 7% attend both public and private schools, 2% are in home schooling, 1% go to a charter school, 14% children are too young to attend school, 10% don’t know or no answer

Overall, how would you evaluate Providence public schools? 3% excellent, 24% good, 38% only fair, 16% poor, 19% don’t know or no answer

Do you think things in Providence public schools are going in the right direction or have they gotten off on the wrong track? 45% right direction, 28% wrong track, 27% don’t know or no answer

How would you rate the job Diana Lam is doing as Providence School Superintendent? 7% excellent, 30% good, 20% only fair, 8% poor, 35% don’t know or no answer

Please tell us if you have done any of the following things during the last year:

    a) met with one of your child’s teachers to discuss your child’s education? 28% yes, 4% no, 67% no children in school now, 1% don’t know or no answer
    b) attended any meetings of the Parent-Teachers Association at your child’s school? 24% yes, 8% no, 67% no children in school now, 1% don’t know or no answer
    c) called or wrote one of your child’s teachers regarding your child’s education? 20% yes, 12% no, 67% no children in school now, 1% don’t know or no answer

How would you rate the job that teacher unions are doing in Providence public schools? 6% excellent, 26% good, 25% only fair, 9% poor, 34% don’t know or no answer

Would you support the creation of charter schools that would have greater flexibility in terms of rules and procedures? 66% yes, 15% no, 19% don’t know or no answer

Do you support smaller class sizes in public schools even if it meant the cost of education went up? 81% yes, 11% no, 8% don’t know or no answer

Would you support a longer school year in public schools even if it meant the cost of education would go up? 55% yes, 36% no, 9% don’t know or no answer

Do you support introducing new teaching methods in public schools based on the latest research about how children learn? 81% yes, 6% no, 13% don’t know or no answer

Do you support introducing new technology such as computers and the Internet into public school classrooms? 87% yes, 6% no, 7% don’t know or no answer

Do you favor taxpayer-financed, after-school programs designed to add to the educational experience of public school students? 75% yes, 16% no, 9% don’t know or no answer

Would you support a federally financed voucher program that would give public school parents $1,500 to send their child to a private school? 49% yes, 40% no, 11% don’t know or no answer

Do you think parents should be allowed a federal tax deduction of up to $5,000 to pay the educational expenses of their children attending a private elementary or secondary school? 56% yes, 32% no, 12% don’t know or no answer

Do you think the General Assembly should increase state funding for Providence public schools by? 49% a lot, 29% a little, 8% not at all, 14% don’t know or no answer

Do you believe Providence public school teachers should be required to live within the city of Providence? 28% yes, 64% no, 8% don’t know or no answer

How much do you think Providence public schools benefit the area’s economy? 19% a lot, 40% some, 25% not very much, 16% don’t know or no answer

Darrell M. West