Eyes fixed on Wake survey of parents

Both sides in the Wake schools debate worry that results could be skewed.

Staff WriterJanuary 13, 2010 

  • Parents of Wake County students can go to the district's Web site, www.wcpss.net, to take the survey. Others can also go to the Web site to provide comments. The deadline to respond is Jan.25.

    Four public meetings, all from 6:30p.m. to 9p.m. in the auditorium of the schools listed below, are also being held:

    Feb. 9. at Holly Springs High School, 5329 Cass Holt Road

    Feb. 18 at Heritage High School, 1150 Forestville Road, Wake Forest

    Feb. 23 at Leesville Road High School, 8409 Leesville Road,Raleigh

    Feb. 25 at Panther Creek High School, 6770 McCrimmon Parkway, Cary

— Supporters and critics of the new Wake County school board majority are raising concerns about a districtwide parent survey that could be used to convert some school calendars for this fall.

Supporters of the new majority hail the online survey as showing that parents are being heard, but they're worried about the possibility of people maliciously manipulating the results. Critics of the new majority claim the board is moving too fast, and they also contend that the survey is unscientific and will underrepresent the views of low-income and minority families.

"What they've chosen is convenient and inexpensive, but that doesn't mean what they picked is right," said Lewis Copulsky, a critic of the survey and president of Lewis & Clark , a Raleigh firm that does survey research.

Since Monday and running through Jan.25, parents of all 140,000 Wake students can take an online survey on whether they prefer the year-round calendar or the traditional calendar at their child's school. It's part of the new school board majority's efforts to end mandatory year-round school assignments.

"People are happy to be able to make a choice," said John Tedesco, a member of the new school board majority.

To take the survey, parents will need to know their child's school identification number, which is being sent home in a letter with students this week. Results will be disregarded if the same number is entered twice.

The school board had initially agreed Dec.15 to send paper surveys home with students. Parents would have been given the option of filling out the survey online, returning the paper survey to the school with their child or mailing it back in an envelope whose postage would have been paid for by Wake County. This last option could have cost as much as $80,000, much of it on postage.

But the school board chairman, Ron Margiotta, asked staff to speed up the survey, resulting last week in the board's decision to shift to a predominantly online survey whose results will now be given in February instead of April. The earlier time frame gives the school board more of a chance to make changes for the 2010-11 school year.

Critics are particularly skeptical that families without Internet access will take the trouble to contact their child's school to request a paper survey.

"This is not a fair way to get a lot of parental participation," said Yevonne Brannon of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a group that's critical of the new board majority.

Geoffrey Hurlburt, a Wake Forest parent, said that taking only one response per student shuts out people like him who share custody of children.

Possibility for fraud

Joe Ciulla, a leader of the Wake Schools Community Alliance, is happy the survey is being done. But he's concerned about "a really devious person" using other people's identification numbers to get their responses tossed.

David Holdzkom, assistant superintendent of evaluation and research, which developed the survey, said school staff members are not worried about someone trying to manipulate the results by entering multiple identification numbers. He said it would take "an incredibly huge number of fraudulent attempts" to influence the results.

Holdzkom said the board will only provide results from an individual school if it get response from at least 33 percent of the parents. That low a level leaves open the possibility that a minority of parents at a school could respond and tilt the results in one direction.

Tedesco said there will likely be some glitches, as in any survey. But he said the school board is doing all it can to get feedback from the community, including from low-income parents.

"We're offering online, and we're offering paper," Tedesco said. "Other than skywriting, I don't know what more we can offer."

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