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Mass. Citizens Support Tax Hike, Better Schools

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h In Massachusetts, where citizens in 1980 approved one of the first statewide property-tax-limitation measures in the country, a new poll commissioned by the state's largest newspaper has found that a majority of residents favor school-improvement efforts even if it means paying higher taxes.

The poll was conducted for The Boston Globe as a follow-up to this year's state-of-the-state message by Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who urged legislators to "invest" in education for the long-term good of the Massachusetts economy.

About 86 percent of the 1,304 state residents polled in the scientific sampling said they believed that improving the public schools is more important than lowering tax rates. In addition, the poll found considerable support for some of the ideas, such as standardized testing and a statewide core curriculum, contained in a major education-reform measure now being considered by the state legislature.

The results of the poll, which were published in The Globe on March 25, were derived from telephone interviews with residents throughout the state. The survey was conducted by researchers at Bell Associates Inc., a social-research firm located in Cambridge, Mass..

Alan Bell, president of the research company, said in an interview last week that the poll's results4reflect more than just "feelings of some kind of moral obligation" toward the schools. "We took a closer look at the data," he said, "and it was clear to us that those who favored better schools also agreed with the concept of incentives for teachers and paying more for extracurricular activites in the schools.''

The survey respondents, according to Mr. Bell, also believed that the money spent on the schools "was being spent efficiently."

Proposition 2

Since Proposition 2, the tax-limitation measure, has been in effect for several years, Mr. Bell suggested, residents have obtained some tax relief and now "they may feel a little more [money] can go to the schools."

Late last year, the General Assembly's Joint Education Committee issued a report recommending far-reaching improvements in the state's education system. The committee proposed that the state's contributions to the cost of education be increased, that the school day or year be increased, and that school districts be required to develop a comprehensive curriculum and school-approval plan. (See Education Week, Jan. 11, 1984.)

Mr. Bell, who served as the project director, said that the education-reform package was not specifically mentioned during the interviews. But he added that "we know that in the package there will be some at8tention to the use of standardized tests and we wanted to get a sense of how people felt about those tests" and other issues.

More State Aid Favored

Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said the state should pay a greater share of the cost of local education programs. About 90 percent said they believed students should pass a basic-skills test in arithmetic and reading as the basis for promotion to the next grade; and about 88 percent said they favored a similar skills test as a requirement for graduation.

About 83 percent of the respondents said they believed the state should mandate that students pass an achievement test before they can graduate from high school.

About 77 percent of those polled said they favored a standardized core curriculum, which, according to Mr. Bell, the researchers did not attempt to define during the telephone interviews. Nearly 91 percent said they considered vocational education an important program in the schools, after reading, writing, and mathematics.

About sixty-seven percent of the state residents favored release time or extra pay as incentives to reward good teachers. About 27 percent of those surveyed said the activity of teachers' unions was harmful to the schools, about 23 percent believed union activity helped the schools, and about 35 percent said such activity had a neutral effect on the schools.

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