The latest Michigan Policy Insiders Panel (MPIP) revealed differences in opinions between political parties, schools, and political insiders in overall satisfaction with school boards’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Survey results also told of Michigan adults’ overall satisfaction with the quality of their children’s education during fall of 2020.
A new MPIP report examines results from a survey sent to Michigan policy insiders, those closely connected to Michigan state government. The survey’s goal is to “understand how policymakers learn about state problems, develop political influence, and interact to produce policy solutions.” The report also compares survey answers to those of the State of the State Survey (SOSS), which tests opinions and attitudes among the general adult population of Michigan. The report, among other findings, details responses to questions asked about quality of education and how school boards reacted to COVID-19.
Policy Insiders’ Responses
Among policy insiders, more than three-quarters of panelists reported children in their families attend traditional, non-charter public schools. Specifically, 77% of children of MPIP Insiders attended traditional public schools, 21.3% attended private schools, and 1.6% were homeschooled. None of those surveyed reported children attending charter schools, which may contribute to some of the differences in data seen between policy insiders and the general adult population.
See a comprehensive Office for Survey Research report, Assessing Our Schools, Government Leaders and Economy in the Time of COVID | IPPSR (msu.edu), on questions asked in the 82nd Round of IPPSR’s State of the State Survey and 10th Michigan Policy Insiders Panel.
When asked “In each semester of the 2020-21 school year, how did your child(ren) attend school?” policy insiders reported a wide range of school instructional modes. Of those surveyed, it was found that, in fall 2020 among policy insiders panel children:
15.3% attended school fully in-person
52.5% attended completely remotely
16.9% attended a hybrid format
10.2% began remote instruction before switching to an in-person or hybrid mode
5.1% began attending in-person or a hybrid class before switching to a fully remote mode
According to this data, most children of MPIP Insiders experienced remote learning in some capacity. In fact, most children did not attend schools in-person in any capacity at all.
Those who responded to the insider’s panel were also asked about their satisfaction with local school board response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Asked “During the 2020-21 school year, were you satisfied with how responsive your school board was to local concerns and health conditions?”
28.6% of MPIP Insiders were unsatisfied
16.1% were neutral on the question
55.4% were satisfied
The report also asked policy insiders about their party affiliation. According to the survey, among Republican policy insiders:
22.7% were unsatisfied with their school board
27.3% were neutral on the question
50% were satisfied
Of insiders who identified themselves as independently aligned:
35.7% were unsatisfied
7.1% were neutral
57.1% were satisfied
Of policy insiders who aligned with the Democratic Party:
30% were unsatisfied
10% were neutral
60% were satisfied
Based on this information, it can be concluded that among all political insiders, those who identified themselves as Independent voters were the most likely to be dissatisfied with their school boards’ pandemic response. Those identifying themselves as Democrats were the most likely to be satisfied and Republicans were the most likely to be neutral.
The final question asked policy insiders if they were satisfied with their children’s education. Panelists were asked “During the 2020-21 school year, how satisfied were you with your child(ren)’s education?” and asked to rank their satisfaction on a scale of 1-5. One was identified as being “very satisfied” and 5 was considered “very unsatisfied.” Of those surveyed:
41.3% were unsatisfied with their children’s education
6.9% were neutral on the question
43.5% were satisfied
As with the answers regarding school board satisfaction, the report broke down policy insiders’ satisfaction by party. According to the report,
Among Republican policy insiders:
56.5% were unsatisfied with their children’s education
0% were neutral
43.5% were satisfied
Among independent voters:
40% were unsatisfied
6.7% were neutral
53.5% were satisfied
Among those most likely to be Democratic voters:
30% were unsatisfied
15% were neutral
55% were satisfied
This information indicates that Republican-aligned policy insiders were the least likely to be satisfied with their children’s education while Democrats were the most likely to be satisfied. Additionally, Democrats were also the most likely to have a neutral opinion on their children’s education.
IPPSR’s State of the State Survey (SOSS), which surveys adults in Michigan, included the same questions.
First, as in the MPIP survey, SOSS’ participants were asked about the types of schools their children attended. According to report, 70.5% of the children of participants attended traditional, non-charter public schools. The remaining percentage were homeschooled (15.9%), attended private schools (10%), or charter schools (3.7%).
According to the report, children of SOSS participants attended school in a variety of ways. Individuals were asked in SOSS, “In each semester of the 2020-21 school year, how did your child(ren) attend school?” In fall 2020, respondents reported that:
26.6% of children attended school fully in-person
40.4% attended completely remote
15.1% attended in a hybrid remote/in-person format
11.9% began attending remotely before switching to an in-person or hybrid mode
6% began in-person before switching to a remote mode
SOSS respondents reported slightly less satisfaction than MPIP respondents in how their local school boards responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the report, when asked “During the 2020-21 school year, were you satisfied with how responsive your school board was to local concerns and health conditions?”
24.1% of participants were unsatisfied
26.9% of participants were neutral
49% were satisfied
The report also examined attitudes towards school board pandemic responses based on party affiliation of SOSS respondents. Of SOSS respondents, Republicans were the most likely to be unsatisfied while Democrats were the most likely to be satisfied. Additionally, Independents were the most likely to be neutral. Specifically, among Republican respondents:
40.3% were unsatisfied with their school board’s responsiveness
26.9% were neutral
32.8% were satisfied
16.7% were unsatisfied
34.5% were neutral
48.8% were satisfied
19.5% were unsatisfied
19.5% were neutral
60.9% were satisfied
SOSS participants were also asked how satisfied they were with their children’s education. They were asked to respond by ranking their satisfaction on a scale from 1-5 with 1 being “very satisfied” and 5 being “very unsatisfied.” Additionally, they could choose a sixth choice: “I don’t know.” When asked “During [Fall of 2020], how satisfied were you with your child(ren)’s education?”
27.8% of participants reported that they were unsatisfied
16.7% were neutral
55.6% were satisfied
The report further breaks down these SOSS responses by party affiliation. Of the SOSS participants, Independents showed that they were the most likely to be unsatisfied with their children’s education while Democrats were the most likely to be satisfied with their children’s education. Of Republican SOSS participants:
30.4% were unsatisfied with their children’s education
13% were neutral
52.5% were satisfied
Of Independent SOSS participants:
40% were unsatisfied
6.7% were neutral
53.5% were satisfied
Of Democrat SOSS Participants:
26.9% were unsatisfied
13.4% were neutral
59.7% were satisfied
Between the general adult population surveyed in the SOSS and the MPIP Insiders Panel, it is evident that many attitudes are shared regarding the education their children received and their local school boards’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most MPIP Insiders and SOSS participants were satisfied with their school boards’ pandemic responses. Additionally, 50% or more of both groups surveyed were satisfied with their children’s education in fall 2020, the same year the pandemic overtook the U.S.
The differences between the two surveyed groups become more apparent when looking at how participants affiliated with each party and Independents responded to the questions. While only 22.7% of Republican MPIP participants were unsatisfied with their school boards’ response to “local concerns and health conditions,” 40.3% of Republicans answering SOSS questions stated that they were unsatisfied. On the other hand, 60.9% of SOSS respondents who identified as Democrats reported their satisfaction while 55.4% of MPIP Democrats reported satisfaction.
Differences such as these may indicate that when it comes to school boards during the pandemic, Michigan political insiders hold less strong opinions than the general adult public. Furthermore, it can be theorized that Michigander adults are more polarized than political insiders in regards to topics surrounding schools and pandemic responses.
Varying attitudes between the two groups also became apparent when examining party affiliation and levels of satisfaction regarding overall education in fall 2020. Interestingly, 13.4% of SOSS Republicans were neutral when asked about how satisfied they were with their children’s education, but none of the MPIP Republicans stated that they were neutral when asked the same question. Similarly, MPIP Independents and Democrats were also less likely than SOSS Independents and Democrats to have a neutral opinion on the quality of their children’s education.
The varying opinions seen between SOSS respondents and those who responded to MPIP could be caused by numerous factors, including the types of schools attended by children. Most importantly, MPIP Insiders are generally involved in policy and Michigan politics more than the general population. This could mean that those working closely with policy will have opinions that are stronger and also influenced by policymakers.
Additional differences may be explained by the types of schools attended by the children of survey participants. More than 20% of MPIP respondents stated their children attended private school compared to only 10% of children of SOSS participants. Additionally, 3.7% of SOSS participants were parent to children attending charter schools while there were no policy insiders children attending charter schools. Had each surveyed group been comprised of participants with children attending more similar types of schools, it is possible that their responses could have varied.
In addition to the various types of schools the children attended, the types of schools the children attended differed between the two groups. In fall 2020, SOSS participants stated that 26.6% of their children attended school completely in-person while 40.4% were completely remote. Of policy insiders’ children, 15.3% of children attended school completely in-person while 52.5% attended completely remote. With each type of learning, students and parents alike have expressed many advantages and disadvantages throughout the pandemic. These individual attitudes, along with the differing proportions of attendance modes seen in the survey, likely contributed to the differing attitudes seen between each surveyed group.
Although responses from the MPIP and SOSS display a wide range of opinions and attitudes, the data gathered from these surveys could help to inform some crucial questions for education leaders throughout the remainder of the pandemic. In the results of these surveys, very few parents indicated that they held neutral opinions on the subject matters they were asked about. Given this information, one could infer that there is generally a strong interest among parents in regards to education during the pandemic.
Maintaining public health and safety while effectively providing education is likely to continue to be a strong priority for school boards, administrators, and policymakers during the pandemic. As new COVID-19 variants such as Omicron arise and case numbers surge, schools may need to adjust their policies and decisions accordingly to function to recognize the needs and desires of students and their parents. Without student and parent support, schools are likely to face consequences in attendance and enrollment numbers, which are crucial for funding. IPPSR’s research reports provide a glimpse at what these needs and desires are by collecting information about opinions and attitudes surrounding education during the duration of the pandemic.
For legislators and school board members, this information can be particularly useful for connecting with those they represent. By comparing the results of the MPIP survey to those of SOSS, policymakers are able to gain insights into their constituents’ opinions and attitudes. As the pandemic persists, data from research such as this could play a crucial role in decisions regarding the education of the children growing up in such an uncertain time.
Natalie Harmon is a Student Assistant at the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. She studies Comparative Cultures and Politics at MSU’s James Madison College. She has experience in political organizing, campaigns and legislative work.