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Troubled school systems getting high marks from many voters

State House News Service / January 26, 2011

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Nearly half of voters in 11 Massachusetts cities give their public schools a grade of A or B and just 12 percent rate their schools D or F, according to poll results released yesterday.

“These numbers show that residents in the 11 Gateway Cities do not perceive significant problems with their local public schools despite data that show underperformance in key areas,’’ Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, said in a statement.

Eighty-three percent of the 400 registered voters polled Jan. 11-13 gave their public schools a grade of C or higher.

Pollsters released the data with a chart showing 63 percent of third-graders statewide scored advanced or proficient on the 2010 English language arts MCAS exam, but only 40 percent in Brockton, 37 percent in Fall River, 48 percent in Fitchburg, 45 percent in Haverhill, 25 percent in Holyoke, 40 percent in Lawrence, 41 percent in Lowell, 53 percent in New Bedford, 58 percent in Pittsfield, 39 percent in Springfield, and 45 percent in Worcester.

Policy makers and education reform advocates have begun to zero in on the third-grade scores, saying they should prod the state to invest in early education.

They said those scores are a key predictor of future economic well-being.

The four-year high school graduation rate for those cities, according to a 2009 state report, was 63 percent, compared with the statewide average of 82 percent.

“The concern coming from these poll numbers is that many residents in Gateway Cities may be uninformed — or in denial — about the significant hurdles facing these schools and students with closing the achievement gap,’’ John Schneider, executive vice president of MassINC, said in a statement.

The poll was released in advance of a Feb. 4 “Gateway Cities Education Summit’’ in Worcester sponsored by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the Urban Initiative at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

MassINC officials say Governor Deval Patrick will deliver the keynote address at that forum.