One in five Tennesseans give public schools a D or F on quality, but 65 percent trust, and have confidence in, teachers

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Nearly a fifth of Tennesseans would give state and local public schools a “D” or “F” for quality, and the figure approaches a third in the state’s two most populous counties, Shelby and Davidson, the latest MTSU Poll shows.

“Davidson and Shelby counties stand out in a couple of ways,” said Ken Blake, Ph.D., director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. “People in those two counties not only grade Tennessee’s public schools lower, but they also grade their local public schools about as low as they grade schools across the state. Everywhere else in Tennessee, people tend to grade their local public schools a bit higher than schools statewide.”

The poll randomly surveyed 600 adult residents statewide Jan. 25-27. The survey’s margin of error is 4 percentage points.

Asked to give Tennessee an A, B, C, D or F on the quality of the public schools in the state, 35 percent of state residents chose an A or B; 32 percent, a C; and 18 percent; a D or F. In Shelby and Davidson counties, 16 percent chose an A or B; 39%, a C; and 30 percent, a D or F.

When the poll asked respondents to grade their local communities on school quality using the same scale, 47 percent of all Tennesseans chose an A or B; 22 percent, a C; and 19 percent, a D or F. In Shelby and Davidson, 28 percent chose an A or B; 27 percent, a C; and 34 percent, a D or F. Here are the complete breakdowns:

Despite the mixed ratings on school quality, a solid 65 percent majority of Tennesseans said they had “trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools.” Twenty percent said they did not, and 16 percent were unsure or gave no answer.

But Jason Reineke, Ph.D., associate director of the poll, noted that faith in teachers appears linked to perceived quality of public schools.

Majorities of those who give A, B and C grades for state and local school quality say they have trust and confidence in teachers, Reineke said. But among those who give D and F grades for state and local school quality, trust and confidence in teachers slips to about 40 percent yes, 40 percent no, and the rest undecided.
“The more people in Tennessee think state and local public schools have a serious problem, the more they think state and local public school teachers are part of the problem,” Reineke said. “But the majority view statewide seems to be that while schools may have some quality issues, teachers can be trusted to do a good job.”


Interviews for the poll were conducted by Issues & Answers Network, Inc., which completed 600 telephone surveys among a random sample of Tennessee residents aged 18 and over. Data was collected using Tennessee statewide RDD sample with a mix of 80% landline and 20% cell phones. The average interview length was 13 minutes. Quotas by gender and geographic region were implemented to ensure the sampled respondents were representative of Tennessee’s adult population. U.S. Census Bureau data were used to determine the gender distribution each of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions: East, Middle, and West.

The survey’s margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points, meaning that we are 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 4 percentage points (in either direction) of the result our sample produced.


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