Colorado 2023 Public Education Issues Survey Overview

Magellan Strategies is pleased to present the findings of a survey of 1,550 Colorado registered voters. The interviews were conducted from September 7th to 26th, 2023. The statewide results for each question have a margin of error of +/- 2.5% at the 95 percent confidence interval. The survey data were weighted to be representative of the Colorado voter registration demographics. In order to generate relevant insights and opinion data at a local level, we oversampled (additional interviews) in seven regions. These seven regions (see our region map in this post) were created by combining some of the twelve Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) regions. Again, please review the maps below to understand the CASB twelve regions and the seven regions we created for this survey project.   

This survey attempts to measure and understand Colorado parents’ and non-parents viewpoints and opinions regarding a wide range of public education issues. There were several motives for our team to conduct this opinion research project. First and foremost is the interest in public education issues and policies among Colorado residents, voters, student parents, and non-parents. The second reason is to provide high-quality opinion research to our dedicated school district clients, friends, school board members, superintendents, assistant superintendents, teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, and teaching assistants. The third reason is to educate and inform the Colorado media, elected officials, Colorado K-12 education advocacy organizations, the Colorado State Board of Education, and the Colorado BOECES Association.         

Any questions regarding the survey findings and methodology can be directed to David Flaherty at  DFlaherty@MagellanStrategies.com or Ryan Winger at RWinger@MagellanStrategies.com. Magellan Strategies paid for this survey.

Table of Contents

View and Download the Statewide Survey Results

View & Download the Survey Results by Region

Key Findings

  • Among all respondents, 39% approve of the job their local school district is doing educating students, 44% disapprove, and 17% do not have an opinion. Regions where a majority or plurality of respondents approve of the job their school district is doing in educating students include the Southwest Region (51% approve), the Weld-Larimer Region (50% approve), and the El Paso Region (48% approve).
 
  • Regions where a plurality of respondents disapprove of the job their school district is doing include the Metro Region (48% disapprove). Respondents in the Western Slope and Eastern Plains regions were evenly split on this question.
 
  • A majority of Coloradans, 56%, have a favorable opinion of the teachers in their local school district. Across every region, a majority have a favorable opinion of teachers. One interesting finding is a plurality of Republican voters, 40%, have an unfavorable opinion of teachers and 37% a favorable opinion. Republicans are the only voter subgroup where a plurality has an unfavorable opinion of teachers.
 
  • Fifty percent of respondents think their local school district does not have the financial resources to provide students with a good education, and 37% think they do. We are curious how opinions of school district funding may change if Proposition HH is approved.
 
  • A clear majority, 61%, think additional funding for public education in Colorado will improve students’ education. Voter subgroups where this viewpoint is strongest include voters aged 18 to 44 (67%), Democrats (90%), and women (70%). Again, we find Republican voters being the only voter subgroup where a substantial majority disagree with this viewpoint (63%).
 
  • Unfortunately, only 32% of respondents think their local school district manages its financial resources efficiently and spends taxpayer money wisely, and a plurality of 46% do not. However, a 49% plurality of respondents in the Southwest Region and 45% of respondents in the Eastern Plains Region do think their school district does spend taxpayer money wisely. One key finding is a plurality of respondents, 49%, who have a student in their household think their school district does not manage its financial resources efficiently.
 
  • Among all respondents, 32% think the public schools in their area are headed in the right direction, and 47% feel they are off on the wrong track. These opinion measurements are similar to our April 2022 education survey, where 28% said public schools in their area are headed in the right direction, and 44% felt they were off on the wrong track. We provide a complete analysis of the reasons why respondents think their local school district is headed in the right direction or off on the wrong track in this blog post.
 
  • Coloradans think the most important attributes and characteristics in developing great schools are having a safe and secure learning environment and teaching students collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. In addition, attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and teaching basic subjects like reading, math, and writing.
 
  • Only 11% of respondents were very familiar, and 27% were somewhat familiar with Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes and programs. Among households with a student, 47% were very or somewhat familiar with CTE programs. After respondents were informed about CTE classes and programs, 58% said they would have a much more favorable opinion of their local school district if they offered those classes and programs.
 
  • Among all respondents, 21% said it is very important, and 43% somewhat important to earn an undergraduate degree from a four-year college or university. However, a whopping 45% of respondents said it is very unaffordable, and 28% somewhat unaffordable for a Colorado resident to earn an undergraduate degree from a public, state-supported Colorado college or university like the University of Colorado or Colorado State University.
 
  • Concerns about student debt are significant among all respondents. Thirty-two percent think the average amount of student debt a Colorado resident has upon graduation from a public, state-supported school is more than $50,000. Another 17% think the average amount is $40,000 to $50,000.
 

Respondents were asked if their local high schools should put greater importance on teaching students CTE programs or preparing for college to attain a four-year degree. A strong majority of 61% said CTE programs should have greater importance, and just 19% said preparing for college should have greater importance. Reasons why respondents answered this question are provided later in this blot post. 

Colorado Association of School Board Regions and Consolidated Survey Regions

School District Job Approval Educating Students

Among all respondents, 39% approve and 44% disapprove of the job their local school district is doing educating students. Seventeen percent of respondents were undecided. Approval ratings were strongest among individuals with a household income less than $75,000 (47% approve), Democrat voters (54%),  Democrat seniors (62%), and respondents in the Weld-Larimer Region (51%). Disapproval ratings were most substantial among Republican voters (63% disapprove). Interestingly, there has been very little change in opinions on this question since April 2022.  

School District Teacher Image Rating

Fifty-six percent of respondents have a favorable opinion of the teachers in their local school district, 21% have an unfavorable opinion, and 22% of respondents did not have an opinion. Among households with a student, 64% had a favorable opinion of their local teachers, and 27% had an unfavorable opinion. Only 37% of Republican voters had a favorable opinion of their local teachers compared to 72% of Democratic voters and 57% of unaffiliated voters.

Opinions of Local School Districts Having Financial Resources to Provide a Good Education

Just 37% of respondents think their local school district has the financial resources needed to provide students with a good education, and 50% believe they do not. Among seniors 65 and older, 51% think their school district has the resources to provide a good education. Among student households, only 43% believe their school district has the financial resources needed for a good education compared to 34% of households who do not have a student.

Opinion of Additional Funding for Public Education Resulting in a Better Education

Sixty percent of respondents think additional funding will result in a better education for students, 34% do not, and 5% are undecided. Among households with an income less than $75,000, 67% think additional funding will result in a better education. Furthermore, 90% of Democrats think additional funding will result in a better education compared to 30% of Republicans. Unaffiliated voters land in the middle, with 64% believing additional funding will result in a better education.

Opinions of School Districts Managing Resources and Spending Taxpayer Money Wisely

A plurality of respondents, 46%, do not think their local school district manages its financial resources efficiently or spends taxpayer money wisely. Only 32% believe they do, and 22% were undecided.  

Opinions of Local School Districts Heading in Right Direction or Off on the Wrong Track

This question and the following open-ended verbatim responses really tell the story of how Coloradans think and feel about public education. It provides student parents and non-parents an opportunity to voice their approval, support, or frustrations with their local school district.

Among all respondents, just 32% think their local school district is headed in the right direction, 47% think it is on the wrong track, and 21% are unsure or do not have an opinion. Compared to our survey in April 2022, the right direction percentage increased four points from 28% to 32%. The wrong track measurement also increased by three points, from 44% to 47%.

Population subgroups that show the highest percentage of right direction include Democrats (50% right direction), Democrat seniors (63% RD), Hispanics (45% RD), and individuals with a post-graduate degree (48% RD). Population subgroups with the highest percentage feeling public schools in their area are off on the wrong track include individuals with a household income of $150K or more (58% wrong track), unaffiliated women (58% WT), Republicans (73% WT), and individuals with a 2-Year degree (58% WT).

Metro Region Top Three Themes Why 31% Think Schools Are Heading in Right Direction

The top three themes emerge from responses to the question “Please describe the reasons why you think the public schools in your area are headed in the right direction.”

  1. Focus on Quality Education: Responses indicate that public schools in the area prioritize providing a well-rounded, high-quality education. This includes updating the curriculum to reflect state standards and current events, equipping students with both intellectual and practical life skills, and preparing students for varied post-secondary pathways, including college and career readiness. The importance of technology and contemporary subjects such as science, technology, and critical theory was also mentioned.
 
  1. Support and Resources for Teachers and Students: Many respondents highlighted the significance of resources in terms of materials and human capital. There’s a mention of the importance of teacher compensation, training, and the need for more teachers. Additionally, students’ inclusivity, safety, and well-being were emphasized, showcasing a commitment to creating a nurturing learning environment.
 
  1. Adapting to Challenges and Forward-Thinking Initiatives: A recurring theme is the ability of schools to adapt to challenges, whether it be the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic or financial constraints. Initiatives such as expanding options for students to learn trades while still in school, offering diverse classes like robotics and web design, and focusing on increasing graduation rates show progressive steps being taken. There’s also an emphasis on value-based education, promoting open-mindedness, and valuing every individual in the school system.

Metro Region Top Three Themes Why 46% Feel Schools Are on the Wrong Track

The top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question “Please describe the reasons why you feel the public schools in your area are off on the wrong track.”

  1. Funding and Resource Allocation: Many respondents expressed concerns over the unequal distribution of resources and funding to schools. Specifically, they mentioned that lower-income schools or schools in certain districts receive less financial support than others. Respondents highlighted the importance of prioritizing funds to hire and retain quality teachers. There was a call for more finances to be directed to teachers so they have the necessary resources. Some also pointed out that there seems to be an excessive amount spent on administrators or upper-level management, while teachers are underpaid and schools lack resources.
 
  1. Political and Social Agendas in Schools: Many respondents believe schools focus too much on political or social issues, such as gender identity and Critical Race Theory (CRT). They feel these issues overshadow basic education essentials like math, science, history, and English. Concerns were raised about “woke” ideologies and the belief that political opinions and certain ideologies are being imposed on students. Some respondents mentioned that schools should focus more on teaching students primary education and less on political issues or topics they consider divisive.
 
  1. Quality of Education and Curriculum Concerns: Many respondents are worried about the overall decline in education quality. They highlighted issues like students not meeting grade-level reading, writing, math, and science standards. There were concerns about the current education system not preparing students for the real world or college. Respondents felt that schools are not emphasizing core skills and foundational subjects enough. Concerns were also raised about the lack of discipline, order, and focus on testing over genuine learning. The idea that the education system does not cater to the current needs of students and doesn’t encourage curiosity and critical thinking was also mentioned.

 

While these are the top three themes, it’s important to note that respondents also mentioned other concerns, such as safety issues in schools, behavior management, over-reliance on standardized tests, lack of support services, and more.

El Paso Region Top Three Themes Why 32% Think Schools Are Heading in Right Direction

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you think the public schools in your area are headed in the right direction.”

1. Dedicated and Caring Educators: Many respondents praised teachers’ and school staff’s dedication, hard work, and care. They believe that despite challenges like limited resources or external pressures, educators are making significant efforts to provide quality education. Phrases like “teachers are dedicated and hard-working,” “teachers care enough,” and “caring professionals” underscore this sentiment.

2. Focus on Student Needs and Well-Being: A number of responses highlighted the schools’ efforts in adapting to the changing needs of students, focusing on mental wellness, and ensuring equity and personalization in learning. There was also mention of schools not bowing to external political pressures, which could be seen as prioritizing students’ well-being over politics. Comments like “schools begin to personalize systems,” “we are focusing on mental wellness,” and “putting students first” emphasize this theme. 

3. Curriculum and Educational Improvements: Several respondents noted positive changes in the curriculum, efforts to keep up with technology, increasing test scores, and ensuring relevance in teaching. They appreciated schools that shared curriculum with parents, offered appropriate curriculum, and made vocational education available. Statements like “making classrooms smaller,” “teaching history accurately,” and “they are currently teaching history accurately” further bolster this theme.

While there were comments regarding politics in schools, they were diverse in nature and didn’t emerge as a unified theme.

El Paso Region Top Three Themes Why 47% Feel Schools Are Off on the Wrong Track

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you feel the public schools in your area are off on the wrong track.”

1. Political and Social Indoctrination Concerns: Many respondents expressed concerns about the perceived influence of certain political and social ideologies in schools, specifically mentioning “woke” culture, critical race theory (CRT), LGBTQ+ curricula, and various forms of what they deem as indoctrination. Respondents also voiced concerns about teachings related to gender identity and pronouns. Some believe schools should stick to traditional educational topics and avoid becoming platforms for particular ideologies, especially those they think don’t belong in a school setting.

2. Focus on Basics and Academic Rigor: Respondents frequently highlighted that schools are not adequately teaching the basics or foundational subjects like reading, writing, mathematics, and history. They feel that the academic standards have declined, with numerous mentions of students graduating without essential skills, such as basic math or reading abilities. There’s a concern about the quality and substance of the curriculum and an emphasis on returning to a traditional or “classical” education approach. Additionally, concerns were raised about the limited focus on STEM, civics, and financial education.

3. Administrative and Financial Mismanagement: Several responses expressed dissatisfaction with the school board’s decisions and actions, including perceived mismanagement of funds, prioritizing administrative salaries over classroom resources, and not directing adequate funds to teachers. There’s a sentiment that the system is too “top-heavy,” with too much emphasis on non-educator pay and insufficient support for teachers, who some believe are underpaid for their work. Concerns were also raised about transparency, especially regarding how funds are spent, with some respondents feeling that money is not being used effectively to improve the quality of education.

While these are the top three themes, it’s essential to note that the responses also touched on other areas of concern, such as the influence of religious groups, school safety, teacher preparedness, and issues related to student behavior and motivation.

Weld-Larimer Region Top Three Themes Why 37% Think Schools are Headed in Right Direction

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you think the public schools in your area are headed in the right direction.”

  1. Dedicated Educators and Quality of Teaching: Many respondents emphasized the hard work, dedication, and quality of the teachers in their districts. This includes teachers’ commitment to improvement, dedication despite challenges, and the belief that they provide the best possible education for their students.
 
  1. Focus on Holistic Student Well-Being: Respondents frequently mentioned the emphasis on mental health, inclusiveness, student autonomy, and the overall well-being of the students. This theme encompasses responses related to mental health resources, whole student education, emphasis on inclusiveness, and nurturing a strong community spirit in schools.
 
  1. Resources and Curriculum: Many comments revolved around the availability of resources, both in terms of academic and extracurricular options, as well as the direction of the curriculum. This includes mentions of diverse subjects, laptop availability, literacy curriculum, technical and traditional teachings, and schools adapting to ensure students experience high-quality education.

Weld-Larimer Region Top Three Themes Why 46% Feel Schools Off on the Wrong Track

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you feel the public schools in your area are off on the wrong track.”

1. Focus on Social and Political Issues: Many respondents expressed concerns that schools spend too much time on what they perceive as “woke” agendas, identity politics, LGBTQ+ topics, equity, and “social justice” education. They often mentioned a desire for schools to return to “basics” or traditional education methods and exclude topics they see as divisive or politically motivated. 

2. Resource Allocation and Management Concerns: Numerous responses cited concerns about how funds are allocated, with critiques on administrative overhead, teacher salaries, wasteful spending, and emphasis on particular programs or extracurriculars at the expense of academic subjects. There is a sentiment that schools might be prioritizing the wrong areas financially and not using funds to directly benefit students’ academic growth. 

3. Quality of Core Education and Instructional Methods: Respondents expressed frustrations about the perceived decline in emphasis on foundational subjects like reading, writing, math, and science. Some mentioned new teaching methods (like changes in how math is taught) and the incorporation of technology in classrooms as problematic. There’s a desire for a stronger focus on basic academics, with some mentioning the importance of practical skills and vocational training.

Mountain Region Top Three Themes Why 33% Think Schools Heading in Right Direction

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you think the public schools in your area are headed in the right direction.”

1. Strong Leadership and Quality Staff: Many responses mentioned the presence of good leadership, dedicated and committed staff, good teachers, and initiatives to improve teacher retention and pay as reasons for positivity towards public schools.

2. Curriculum and Educational Approaches: Responses highlighted standards-based grading, emphasis on basic life skills, inclusive and challenging environments, and initiatives like character building, critical thinking skills, and environmental education as positive developments in schools.

3. Community and Resources Management: The active involvement of schools in the community, positive reports from local newspapers, wise financial management, and the ability to create programs tailored to students’ unique needs were noted as indicators that schools are moving in the right direction.

Mountain Region Top Three Themes Why 55% Feel Schools Are Off on the Wrong Track

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you feel the public schools in your area are off on the wrong track.”

1. Educational Priorities and Curriculum Concerns: Many respondents feel schools have moved away from teaching foundational subjects like math, reading, writing, science, and history. They believe there’s too much emphasis on “test scores” and not enough on developing “critical thinking” and “life skills .”They also perceive a shift towards what they describe as “social engineering,” “indoctrination,” or “political agendas” rather than traditional learning.

2. Teacher and Administrative Issues: There are concerns about the motivation, qualification, retention, and compensation of teachers. Respondents feel teachers are underpaid, overburdened with paperwork, or sometimes lack the necessary credentials. Many also cited issues with school boards, administrators, and the overall management of the school system. The role and influence of teachers’ unions are also highlighted, with some believing they have too much control over education decisions.

3. Social and Political Concerns in Education: A significant number of responses mention concerns about the integration of contemporary social and political issues into the school curriculum, especially topics related to gender and sexuality, diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), Critical Race Theory (CRT), and other “woke” ideas. Some believe these topics distract from core education, while others see them as inappropriate or even a form of “indoctrination.”

Western Slope Region Top Three Themes Why 33% Think Schools in Right Direction

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you think the public schools in your area are headed in the right direction.”

1. Quality of Education and Resources: Many respondents emphasized the positive impact of test scores, college preparation programs, academic programs, and the curriculum’s breadth that prepares students for their future. They also noted the extra support provided for students with learning disabilities and the effort teachers put in, often beyond their paid hours, to ensure students succeed. Several respondents also mentioned the importance of innovative teaching practices and the efforts to keep schools open during challenging times.

2. Teacher and Community Dedication: A recurring theme was the dedication, commitment, and hard work of the teachers and administrators in the district. Respondents believe that the teachers are doing their best with the resources they have and often go above and beyond for their students. Additionally, community involvement and support were highlighted, with many noting parents and the broader community’s active roles in the education system.

3. Inclusivity and Respect for Diversity: Respondents frequently pointed out the schools’ efforts to promote inclusivity and recognize individual needs. They mentioned programs and practices that advocate for marginalized groups and highlighted the value of having an environment where students can form their own opinions and are taught to empathize and advocate. The emphasis on equity, inclusivity, and the recognition of the diverse needs of students was seen as an indicator of the schools heading in the right direction.

Western Slope Region Top Three Themes Why 53% Feel Schools Are on the Wrong Track

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you feel the public schools in your area are off on the wrong track.”

1. Funding and Resource Allocation Concerns: Many respondents expressed concerns about how funds are allocated in their local schools. They highlighted issues such as insufficient funding for academic resources, teacher salaries, and educational supplies. Some mentioned there is a disproportionate focus on areas like sports facilities while neglecting basic academic and instructional needs. Additionally, concerns were raised about the lack of support for special education students and those with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

2. Curriculum and Teaching Concerns: A significant number of respondents voiced concerns about the current curriculum in public schools. This theme encompasses a range of issues: “Teaching to the test” and overemphasizing standardized testing. Insufficient focus on fundamental subjects such as reading, writing, arithmetic, and history. Perceived inclusion of political or controversial subjects, with mentions of “woke culture,” Critical Race Theory (CRT), and discussions related to gender and sexuality. Lack of comprehensive and inclusive history education and a need for more critical thinking and real-world skills. Concerns about teachers pushing personal beliefs onto students.

3. Administration and Governance Concerns: Several responses pointed to issues at the administrative or governance level. This includes concerns about school board decisions, with some feeling that boards are not acting in the best interests of students. Issues with teacher turnover, lack of qualified teachers, and a reliance on substitutes. Beliefs that political agendas or personal opinions are influencing schools lead to tensions between educators, parents, and administrators. Challenges with transparency, discipline, and management in schools.

While these are the top three themes, it’s important to note that the responses encompass a wide range of individual concerns and viewpoints, reflecting diverse perspectives on public education in the respondents’ areas.

Southwest Region Top Three Themes Why 33% Think Schools in Right Direction

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you think the public schools in your area are headed in the right direction.”

1. Dedication and Effort of Educators: Many respondents praised the dedication, hard work, and passion of the teachers and administrators in their local public schools. They also appreciated the tireless efforts made by educators to improve the quality of education and the care they show toward their students.

2. Educational Outcomes and Quality: Several respondents mentioned positive educational outcomes such as high test scores, student achievements, and innovative programs. There was also a frequent mention of the schools providing a balanced and factual curriculum, which keeps politics and ideologies out of education.

3. Community Involvement and Values: Many respondents felt that their local schools were deeply connected to their communities, with local administrators who understand and cater to the unique needs of their areas. There were mentions of schools involving the community in decisions, schools steering clear of controversial movements, and a general sentiment that schools reflected the values and priorities of the local community.

While these are the top three themes, there were other prevalent sentiments, such as the emphasis on real-world skills, schools offering diverse programs to cater to various learning needs, and the importance of truth and fact-based learning.

Southwest Region Top Three Themes Why 38% Feel Schools Are on the Wrong Track

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you feel the public schools in your area are off on the wrong track.”

1. Curriculum and Educational Focus Concerns: Many respondents expressed concerns about the school curriculum, explicitly mentioning the inclusion of political, social, or “woke” agendas. They felt schools were straying from basic academic focuses such as math, science, and history. There’s also a sentiment that schools are pushing ideologies or beliefs onto students that should be taught by parents or not at all, including topics like gender affirmation and critical race theory.

2. Lack of Adequate Resources and Teacher Support: Several respondents mentioned issues like underfunding, lack of resources for facility maintenance, low salaries for teachers, and challenges in recruiting and retaining quality teachers. There were also concerns about a lack of attention to student’s individual needs and inadequacies in addressing special education or disabilities. Furthermore, there’s a sentiment that poor leadership, both at the administrative and school board levels, negatively impacts the schools.

3. Safety, Discipline, and Student Behavior Concerns: Numerous respondents raised issues related to safety in schools, citing incidents like drug use, vaping, bullying, and lack of discipline. They felt schools were not adequately addressing these problems, leading to a disruptive learning environment. Moreover, there’s a feeling that students are not adequately prepared for the real world or higher education upon graduating.

These themes provide an overview of the general sentiments of the respondents, though it’s essential to note that a variety of opinions and concerns are expressed in the responses.

Eastern Plains Region Top Three Themes Why 31% Think Schools in Right Direction

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you think the public schools in your area are headed in the right direction.”

1. Quality of Education and Curriculum: Improved test scores, focus on core subjects like reading, math, and English. Incorporation of technology and other resources to enhance learning. New and impactful programs like Capturing Kids Heart focus on reading and writing. Curriculum adjustments like the inclusion of job placement and college education insights. The focus is on quality instruction and intervention.

2. Community and Leadership Involvement: Presence of involved and dedicated school personnel, from custodians to superintendents. Strong leadership at district levels, with positive mentions of superintendents and school boards. Active community engagement, transparency in board/faculty decisions, and inclusiveness in meetings. Recognition of the school’s responsiveness to community needs and concerns.

3. School Environment and Culture: Improvement in school culture, fewer behavioral issues, and greater emphasis on values. Positive feedback about the attitude and behavior of students suggests a supportive and constructive school environment. Initiatives to promote student well-being, such as anti-bullying efforts and programs that foster empathy and responsibility. Presence of extracurricular activities, sports, and clubs that contribute to a holistic student experience. Appreciation for small class sizes, especially in rural districts, leads to more personalized and tailored instruction.

It’s important to mention some contrasting views related to political and cultural beliefs, with some responders appreciating the more conservative values in education while others favoring more inclusive and egalitarian approaches.

Eastern Plains Region Top Three Themes Why 35% Feel Schools Are on the Wrong Track

Following are the top three themes that emerge from the responses to the question, “Please describe the reasons why you feel the public schools in your area are off on the wrong track.”

1. Resource Allocation and Prioritization: Concerns over the misuse of funds, such as constructing a new stadium, while neglecting building repairs and academic needs and diverting resources away from academic programs (like music) in favor of sports. Neglecting student needs, especially those with special requirements or learning disabilities. Teachers are being underpaid, overworked, and inadequately supported. High turnover rates among school administrators and staff affect consistency and quality of education. Focus on non-educational matters over core academic subjects.

2. Political and Social Agendas in Curriculum: A significant number of responses mentioned concerns about introducing topics they view as “woke” or “liberal,” like critical race theory, gender identity, and other social justice issues. Accusations of schools pushing specific political ideologies, both conservative and liberal. Calls for a return to a more “traditional” curriculum, emphasizing basics like reading, writing, arithmetic, and civics. Concerns over the removal or distortion of American history lessons.

3. Overall Quality of Education and School Environment: Schools’ excessive focus on standardized testing at the expense of genuine learning and life skills. Students are being promoted despite not meeting academic benchmarks. Issues related to student behavior, bullying, drugs, and the perceived absence of consequences. Lack of qualified staff, with instances of uncertified or underqualified individuals teaching classes. Teachers are more focused on paychecks rather than genuinely caring for the students. A general sentiment is that the U.S. education system is falling behind internationally and is not adequately preparing students for real-world challenges.

What Challenges Should Colorado Public Schools be Addressing the Most?

Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers, increasing teacher pay, and preparing students for the workforce are the top three challenges that Coloradans think school districts should be addressing the most. However, there are some differences of opinion among population subgroups. Among Democrat respondents, increasing teacher pay was overwhelmingly the top choice, followed by addressing student mental health. Among Republicans, preparing students for the workforce was their top choice, followed by attracting high-quality teachers, improving school building safety, and addressing learning loss caused by the COVID virus.

Following is a summary of the 23% who submitted a response to “another challenge not mentioned.” 

Curriculum and Educational Content:

  • Teaching relevant material.
  • Focus on fundamentals such as reading, writing, and arithmetic.
  • Educating students on critical thinking, life skills, and financial basics.
  • Addressing inclusivity and representation in history.
  • Bringing back art, music, vocational education, and student-led learning.

 

Political and Social Concerns in Education:

  • Concerns about teachers pushing political agendas and personal ideologies.
  • Keeping politics and religion out of the classroom.
  • Avoiding “woke” education.
  • Respecting parental input in children’s education.

 

Student Safety and Well-being:

  • Addressing bullying and ensuring the safety of students from violence, including gun violence.
  • Addressing and preventing sexual assault.
  • Improving mental health support for both students and teachers.
  • Ensuring environments are conducive to learning, such as providing proper HVAC systems.

 

Support for Diverse Learning Needs:

  • Assisting in the integration and acceptance of children with disabilities.
  • Providing more resources and education for special needs students.
  • Training teachers to understand and support students with learning or mental disabilities.
  • Addressing issues related to student behavior and offering support for teachers in managing classroom discipline.

 

(Note: These themes capture the overarching sentiments found within the responses. The actual prioritization may vary depending on the demographics and specific concerns of the responding community.)

Opinion of Most Important Attributes and Characteristics in Developing Great Schools

Respondents were asked to indicate the importance of fourteen school attributes and characteristics in developing great schools. The three attributes with the highest percentage of respondents indicating it is very important were a safe and secure learning environment (88% very important), teaching collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills (87%), and teaching basic subjects like reading, math, and writing (85%).  

How Familiar Are Coloradans with Career and Technical Education Classes and Programs?

Over the past three years, our school district research projects have taught us Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes and programs are extremely popular with student parents and non-parent. However, this survey clearly shows awareness of CTE programs is very low. Among all respondents, just 11% are very familiar with CTE programs, and 27% are somewhat familiar. Even among households with a student, only 13% were very familiar with CTE programs, and 34% were somewhat familiar.

Career and Technical Education Programs Are Extremely Popular

After being educated and informed about the business partnerships and the career pathways and opportunities provided by Career and Technical Education programs, respondents were asked if they would have a more favorable opinion of their local school district. Among all respondents, 58% said they would have a much more favorable opinion, and 28% had a somewhat more favorable opinion.  

Population subgroups with the highest “much more favorable” percentage include senior women (72%), households with annual incomes of $75,000 or less (71%), Republican men (65%), and respondents with vocational education (67%).

One important observation is a majority of respondents who feel their school district is on the wrong track (55%), who disapprove of the job their school district is doing educating students (52%), and those who do not think their school district spends taxpayer money wisely (56%) would have a much more favorable opinion of their school district if they offered CTE classes and programs.

Opinion of Four-Day School Weeks

More and more school districts are considering a move to four-day school weeks. Therefore, we included a survey question measuring opinions of the “quality of education” for four-day school weeks. Among all respondents, 16% thought the quality of four-day school weeks was excellent, 14% good, 13% only fair, 15% poor, and 43% did not have an opinion.

To our surprise, there was little difference in opinions among respondents with a student in the household and those without a student. However, among respondents who live in a rural area of the state and are more likely to have four-day school weeks, 24% say the quality of education is excellent. Another interesting observation is that 39% of Hispanic respondents rated the quality of a four-day school week as excellent.

Opinions of Local School Consolidation and Closure

School building consolidation and closure is a very difficult and emotional decision that many Colorado school districts must address. The survey included a question that educated and informed respondents about the increased cost of operating a school with low enrollment and the challenges of providing education programs like art, music, and physical education. They were then asked their opinion on doing everything possible to keep schools open or not.

Among all respondents, 43% thought school districts should do everything possible to keep schools open, and 51% said school districts should consider merging or closing schools. Among respondent households with a student, opinions on this question were evenly split, with 48% wanting to keep schools open and 47% opting for school consolidation and closure. One interesting finding is that 40% of respondents with a four-year degree think school districts should do all they can to keep schools open, compared to 49% who do not have a four-year degree.

Coloradan Preferences for a Large or Small High School Environment

Is a smaller high school environment preferred to a larger high school environment? Our survey attempted to answer that question and provide respondents with a brief description of both high school environments. Among all respondents, 52% preferred a smaller high school environment, and 41% preferred a larger one. One interesting insight is that 64% of Republican respondents preferred a smaller high school environment, compared to 52% of Democrats and 45% of Unaffiliated voters.

Opinions of the Importance of Earning a Four-Year Degree From College

This survey included several questions measuring opinions of higher education, its cost, and the importance of earning a four-year college degree. Among all respondents, 20% believe it is very important to earn an undergraduate degree from a college and or university, and 43% thought it was somewhat important. Among respondents 18 to 34 years old, just 13% thought it was very important compared to 26% of respondents 45 to 64 years old.

Interestingly, Democrat respondents (80% very and somewhat important) value the importance of earning a four-year degree more than Republican respondents (46% very and somewhat important).  Among respondents with a four-year degree, 74% believe it is very or somewhat important to earn a four-year degree, compared to 49% of respondents who do not have a four-year degree.  

A strong majority of respondents who live in an urban area, 69%, and a suburban area, 65%, believe earning a four-year degree is important compared to 59% of respondents in a small-town area and 54% in a rural area.   

Opinions of the Affordability of an Undergraduate Degree for a Colorado Resident

The issue of degree affordability for in-state residents at our state’s colleges and universities is an issue that our state leaders and college institutions should be addressing. There is an overwhelming, strong belief among all respondents that the cost of an undergraduate degree for a Colorado resident from a public, state-supported college or university is unaffordable.

This viewpoint is true within every population subgroup. Among all respondents, 45% think a degree for an in-state resident at a state college or university is very unaffordable, and 28% somewhat unaffordable. Only 13% of respondents think a degree for an in-state resident at a state college is somewhat affordable, and 2% very unaffordable.

Opinions of the Average Amount of Student Loan Debt for a Colorado Resident

Among all respondents, 32% think the average student debt for an in-state resident after graduation from a public, state-supported college or university is more than $50,000. Just 9% think the amount is $20,000 or less. 

Opinions of Local High School Focusing on CTE Programs or Preparing for College

A strong majority of Coloradans, 61%, think their local high schools should place a higher importance on CTE programs than preparing for college to attain a four-year college degree. Population subgroups that overwhelmingly prefer making CTE programs a priority in their high schools include Republicans (79%), individuals who think their local schools are on the wrong track (71%), and individuals who do not think their school district spends taxpayer money wisely (70%). Population subgroups that show a preference for college preparation and earning a four-year degree include Democrats (32%) and households with annual incomes of $150,000 or more (28%).   

Why 61% of Coloradans Think It is More Important for Their Local High School to Focus on Career & Technical Education Than Preparing for College

Please describe the reasons why you think CTE programs are more important.

1. Affordability and Debt Concerns: Many respondents expressed concerns about the high cost of college education, leading students to incur significant debt. They emphasized that not all well-paying jobs require a college degree, and Career and Technical Education programs offer students opportunities to earn a stable income without accumulating crippling debt. These programs provide more immediate and affordable paths to skilled professions.

2. Practical Skills and Immediate Employment Opportunities: Respondents frequently highlighted that CTE programs offer hands-on, practical skills that prepare students directly for the workforce. They mentioned that many students graduating from college find it hard to secure jobs related to their degrees, whereas CTE programs can provide direct pathways to stable, high-demand careers. This theme also emphasized the importance of offering alternatives to college, as CTE can provide skills that are immediately applicable in the job market.

3. College Isn’t for Everyone: Many respondents noted that a four-year college education might not suit everyone’s goals, interests, or learning styles. They mentioned that CTE programs offer flexibility, allowing students to explore various professions and determine if college is the right choice for them. Additionally, the societal push for all students to attend college regardless of their individual aptitudes or interests has led to an oversaturation of certain degrees in the job market, making CTE an important alternative route for career preparation.

Other points that were frequently mentioned but didn’t make the top three themes include concerns about the perceived decline in the quality of college education and indoctrination, the aging population of tradespeople leading to a shortage in these roles, and the importance of providing equal opportunities for students from all backgrounds.

Why 19% of Coloradans Think It is More Important for Their Local High School to Focus on Preparing for College and Attaining a Four-Year Degree Than Career & Technical Education

Please describe the reasons why you think college and a four-year degree are more important.

1. Career Opportunities and Economic Stability: Many respondents mentioned that a four-year degree leads to more diverse and stable career pathways, higher-paying jobs, and overall better quality of life. The perception is that there are more job opportunities available for those with a college degree and that these positions often come with better salaries and benefits.

2. Personal Development and Critical Thinking: Several respondents emphasized the personal growth, maturity, and critical thinking skills that are developed during the undergraduate years. College is seen as an essential experience that helps young adults become well-rounded, independent individuals capable of understanding complex issues and thinking critically.

3. Societal Expectations and Future Readiness: A recurring theme was the societal expectation and increasing demand for degrees in many professions. Respondents believe that in a rapidly changing world, a college education equips individuals to handle “complex” societal issues and offers a competitive edge. Additionally, there’s a belief that having a degree can provide security and assurance in an unpredictable job market.

Other mentions included the value of lifelong learning, the cultural and intellectual enrichment college provides, and the importance of education in fostering responsible and informed citizens.

Survey Methodology and Contact Information

This survey utilized MMS text data collection method to interview residents, inviting them to participate in the online survey. The survey data were weighted to be representative of the voter registration demographics for Colorado and each of the CASB regions. The interviews were conducted from September 7th – 26th, 2023. This survey has a margin of error of +/- 2.5% at the 95 percent confidence interval. For any questions regarding this survey, please contact David Flaherty by email at DFlaherty@MagellanStrategies.com or Ryan Winger at RWinger@MagellanStrategies.com.

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