By Sandra Svoboda | WDET
Black and white residents in southeast Michigan are split when it comes to their opinions about the quality of their schools, according to a poll the Detroit Journalism Cooperative commissioned earlier this year.
A majority of whites – 56 percent – say they are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the education provided by local schools in their communities, but just 29 percent of African Americans say the same.
When it comes to being dissatisfied, 69 percent of African Americans report they are “somewhat” or “very” dissatisfied while just 38 percent of whites agree.
Detroiter Vanita Robinson, a African-American nurse practitioner, who says education is her main concern for the region, sees the problem as one that only makes itself worse.
“Our schools systems, with the low scores that we have, we can’t attract more students to come in because the success rate is so low,” she says. “It’s almost like a system set up for failure.”
The poll was conducted for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative partners by EPIC-MRA, which is based in Lansing. Done by telephone in mid-July, the survey included 600 residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.
Questions throughout the survey focused on racial attitudes and race relations, and results were reported earlier this summer. But the survey also included education-related queries. Overall, the poll has margin of error of plus- or minus-4 percent.
As an issue for the region, metro Detroiters ranked “education” and “crime” as being of the highest importance. No difference existed between the races, with about a quarter of people surveyed naming either of those issues as tops.
But when other questions dug into opinions about local schools, whites and blacks answered differently, most notably in judging their local schools.
“Since we have done so many surveys in school districts – more than 130 throughout the state – I can tell you from our experience and just measuring metrics about the local school districts … that there is significant difference between the perception of communities that are mostly or all-white as opposed to communities that are either mixed or that are predominantly black,” says Bernie Porn who conducted the poll at EPIC MRA. “That is not only from this survey but also what we have done in surveys for Flint schools and for predominantly African-American and all-white schools.”
Porn attributes the difference in opinion about the quality of schools to “a whole collection of issues.”
Collection indeed: Renaissance High School Junior Imani Harris has criticized the overcrowding, building malfunctions, moldy food, large class sizes, teacher turnover and lack of books in Detroit schools; the state has fined a charter school because of unlicensed administrators; some schools are chronically low-performing.
For Lisa Bryant, students not having adequate resources – like books – is a main concern. Bryant attended school in California and New York and now lives in Westland, and she also named education as a top problem for the region when she was surveyed.
“To me, these kids are being cheated,” she says.
WDET’s Gabrielle Settles and Melissa Mason contributed to this article.