Residents of Prince George's County, particularly whites, give sharply lower ratings to their local public schools than residents of other major jurisdictions in Maryland except Baltimore City, according to poll results released yesterday.
Asked to grade their local schools from A to F, only 32 percent of Prince George's respondents awarded an A or a B, compared with 43 percent who gave the high marks statewide and 42 percent who did so in a nationwide Gallup Poll issued in August.
Among Prince George's whites, just 28 percent gave A or B grades to the county public school system. Some 38 percent of Prince George's blacks gave similar grades.
In Montgomery County, by contrast, 62 percent of residents gave As or Bs to the public school system. In Baltimore City just 28 percent did so.
The new poll on public education, the first of its kind conducted statewide, was sponsored by the Maryland State Department of Education. The questions and sampling techniques were provided by the Gallup organization. Local school systems arranged for personnel to conduct the telephone interviews.
Brian J. Porter, spokesman for the Prince's George's County public schools, said officials are "not particularly satisfied" with the public's comparatively low confidence in the county schools. "But we think the ratings probably reflect the achievement levels . . . , " he said. "We know we have a job to do and that is to improve the academic achievement of our students. That is our mission, and once that occurs, we think our approval rating will improve."
Porter noted that a "fairly solid" proportion of Prince George's respondents -- 42 percent -- gave the local schools a C rating, while only 10 percent graded them D and 4 gave a failing grade. Statewide, 35 percent of respondents gave a C rating to schools, 7 percent a D, and 3 percent a failing grade.
The statewide poll, based on a sample of 2,080 interviews, also shows that:
60 percent of Maryland residents would be "willing to pay more taxes" if local schools "said they needed much more money." That support is evident even in Prince George's, where school officials have complained that a property tax cap has hampered efforts to improve education .
Nationwide, only 41 percent of respondents said they would "vote to raise taxes" for local schools. L. John Martin, a University of Maryland journalism professor who served as a consultant in analyzing the poll, said the different wording between state and national polls "may very well have made a difference" in the results, but he said the Maryland data does show "strong support" for financing public schools.
Teachers and school principals get much higher ratings than schools themselves or local school boards. And parents are given the lowest approval rating, with just 28 percent of respondents giving them an A or a B for "bringing up their children." These results are similar to the pattern nationwide.
Overall, 65 percent of respondents say students are not required to work hard enough in elementary grades while 70 percent say students do not work hard enough in senior high. The proportion of non-whites saying that students should do more school work is significantly higher than the proportion among whites, indicating that "blacks want the schools to be harder on the kids than whites do," Martin said.
Discipline is rated as the Maryland schools' "biggest problem," followed by drug use and curriculum issues. The proportion saying school discipline problems are "very serious" is 42 percent statewide -- 52 percent among nonwhites and 39 percent among whites. Nationwide, 34 percent of the Gallup Poll respondents said discipline problems were "very serious."
Discipline has led the list of school problems virtually every year since the Gallup Poll on public education was made in 1969.
However, this year's national survey showed the first substantial increase in public confidence in the schools since the mid-1970s. Analysts attributed the finding to the widespread efforts in the past year to raise graduation requirements and upgrade curriculum standards following a series of highly critical reports about American schools.
Maryland state school Superintendent David W. Hornbeck said the Maryland poll would probably be repeated next year to show the trend of public opinion within the state. He said it would also "assist us in making policy decisions" and cited the finding that 89 percent of state residents want new teachers to pass a licensing exam, a requirement that the State Board of Education currently is considering.
Prince George's spokesman Porter noted that the average scores of county students on nationwide achievement exams are around the national averages, while scores in Montgomery are much higher. "We've made modest gains over the past few years," Porter said. "But we know that we still have a tremendous amount of work to do."