Half of NYC Parents Would Flee Public Schools

Published January 1, 1998

Education is emerging as the most serious problem confronting New York City residents, according to the 1997 Empire State Survey on Education. While respondents hiked their approval ratings for the city’s parochial schools, they lowered even further their negative ratings of the city’s public schools.

A majority of New York City public school parents would change schools if they could afford to do so, and fully two-thirds (67 percent) of parents support vouchers for use at public, private, or parochial schools. A majority (51 percent) also favor making home schooling easier.

Thirty-eight percent of New Yorkers named education as one of the two most serious problems confronting the city, up from just 7 percent in 1992. In the 1992 survey, 58 percent named crime one of the two most serious problems; in the 1997 poll, that fell to 41 percent. Nearly seven out of ten New Yorkers (68 percent) describe public elementary and secondary education as a “very serious” problem facing New York, while 54 percent call the city’s crime problem “very serious.”

“Education is becoming the top concern of New Yorkers, and they are looking carefully at alternatives,” commented Douglas Muzzio, co-director of the Empire State Survey, which is sponsored by the Lehrman Institute and the Empire State Foundation.

Vouchers are popular among New Yorkers, attracting support from 60 percent of all New Yorkers surveyed. Black New Yorkers offered the strongest support (68 percent), followed by Hispanics (64 percent), and whites (55 percent). Muzzio sees this as evidence that New Yorkers “want any options to be open to everyone–not just those students attending poor schools.”

More than six out of ten respondents (62 percent) thought that vouchers would improve the quality of education, and a majority (52 percent) believed that a voucher program would help promote racial and ethnic balances in schools. Only 27 percent felt vouchers would increase racial and ethnic separation.

This last finding is especially significant, says Tim Mulhearn, president of United New Yorkers for Choice in Education. While voucher opponents claim that school choice would lead to racial segregation, Mulhearn points out that “many of the existing public schools are far more segregated than their non-public counterparts.”

The percentage of New Yorkers giving positive ratings to the city’s public schools dropped from 23 percent in 1992 to 21 percent in 1997, while negative ratings rose from 70 percent to 76 percent. For the city’s Catholic schools, the opposite shift occurred: positive ratings rose from 59 percent to 70 percent from 1992 to 1997, while negative ratings dropped from 23 percent to 10 percent. Black New Yorkers are most positive about Catholic schools, with 79 percent rating them excellent/good, followed by Hispanics (76 percent) and whites (66 percent).

While an overall majority (51-44 percent) of New York City public school parents would flee the public schools if cost were not a factor, whites are evenly divided on this issue (48-48). By contrast, a clear majority of Hispanics (60-38) and blacks (55-38) would send their oldest child to another school if they could.

“Given parents’ low regard for the performance of New York City’s public education system, it isn’t surprising that parents would abandon the public schools,” commented Muzzio.

The telephone poll surveyed 1,743 New Yorkers between July 16 and August 7, 1997, and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].