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Poll: Majority of voters disappove of mayor's handling of schools

A new Marist poll asked voters if they approved of the mayor’s handling of nine different areas, including education. His handling of the public schools may be second only to crime on Mayor Bloomberg’s bragging list, but a new Marist poll finds that voters rate his handling of the schools second to last, below crime, security, taxes, and even public transportation.

The portion of voters who approve of Bloomberg’s schools policy, 40%, was higher only than the portion who approve of his handling of unemployment, 36%. By contrast, 71% of voters said they approve of the mayor’s handling of crime, 50% said they approve of his economic development work, and 41% said they approve of his work with public transportation.

Several of these policy areas generated higher approval ratings than the last time Marist asked these questions, in 2005. The approval rating on schools did not change, while the disapproval rating dropped one percentage point, to 52% from 53%.

The poll adds to a small and decidedly mixed body of public opinion data on the school reforms Bloomberg undertook in 2002. The Bloomberg administration often cites research by the Community Service Society that found 35% of respondents graded the public schools an “A” or “B” in 2007, up from 27% in 2006. The percentage was even higher among poor New Yorkers, 64% of whom recently graded the schools an “A” or “B,” up from 24% in 2002. Mayoral control, the favorite accomplishment of the Bloomberg administration, also wins a majority of public support.

At the same time, polls have registered consistently low approval ratings for Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. A 2007 New York Sun editorial (which, incidentally, praised Klein) has a good summary of the polling history:

The approval ratings of the chancellor, Joel Klein, have slipped to a record low. Only 33% of New Yorkers approve of the job he is doing, while 43% disapprove. Mr. Klein’s approval ratings have never been particularly high. He reached a peak in February 2003, shortly after his Children First reform package was announced. At that time 46% of the voters approved of the job he was doing while just 27% disapproved.

The largest poll came two years ago, when Klein first conducted his massive citywide poll of all parents, students, and teachers in the school system — a survey that Klein often notes is the largest other than the U.S. Census. The poll found that 90% of parents were happy with their children’s teacher. At the time, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum dismissed the survey for failing to ask tough questions. She called it a “multimillion-dollar PR effort.”

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