Research News

Vanderbilt policy center taking pulse of education in Tennessee; New poll released as part of ongoing statewide education policy initiative

The Vanderbilt Peabody Center for Education Policy is undertaking an ongoing initiative to generate, share, debate and discuss the latest information on the state of education in Tennessee.

“In keeping with Vanderbilt University and Peabody College‘s longstanding commitment to enhancing education in our home state, we‘re leading a variety of projects to sharpen the debate about what our students, teachers, administrators and school communities need to thrive,” James Guthrie, center director and professor of public policy and education, said.

The center‘s first initiative of the new year is the release of what will be an annual poll to gauge Tennesseans‘ attitudes toward education.

“Our poll found that Tennesseans do not see education as the paramount public policy issue,” Guthrie said of the December 2006 poll. “Even so, Tennesseans appear to be concerned about their K-12 education system. They do not give it a high grade and they are not sure it is on the right track.

“They are not eager to spend more money on the system, yet they would like teachers to be better paid. And interestingly, a majority blame parents for the state‘s education problems,” he continued. “More than anything, this poll points toward a need to increase discussion and insight into education issues in Tennessee. Our goal is to provide research-based information that all interested parties can use to have that discussion and make decisions that benefit our students and our communities.”

Some specific poll findings were:

  • Education is a second tier issue for Tennessee voters, with 44 percent identifying it as the most important issue among a list of seven. Fifty-four percent said health care is most important.
  • A majority of Tennesseans believe the state is doing a mediocre to poor job in educating its students, with 60 percent giving it a grade of C or worse.
  • Voters blame parents most for education failure, with 71 percent saying parents‘ lack of commitment to their children‘s education is the primary problem. After parents, voters identified teacher pay (59 percent), students themselves (49 percent) and inadequate state standards (38 percent) as major education problems. (Those polled were able to identify more than one issue as being a problem in their response).
  • Voters do not necessarily see increasing the state budget as an answer, with 44 percent saying state government should divert money from other resources to fund education improvements. And while 43 percent said new money should be added to the existing education budget, 59 percent opposed raising state or local taxes to increase education spending.
  • Even with this hesitancy to spend more money, 70 percent stated that teacher pay is too low, and 43 percent said they should be paid “a lot more.”

The poll surveyed 601 Tennesseans who reported voting in the 2006 election. (Download the full poll and its results).

As a next step, the center will present detailed findings on state education conditions and policy recommendations to the Tennessee State Board of Education at its meeting in Nashville Jan. 25. The findings will be available on the Vanderbilt website,

The center will also release regular updates about its ongoing work with the state on K-12 and higher education issues.

The Peabody Center for Education Policy was founded in 1994 as a research and development agency, devoted to understanding and advancing education reform. PCEP has organized national forums and research conferences involving policy-makers, researchers and practitioners. Its research findings have been used to redesign state school funding systems, to improve urban school governance and to implement institutional change in higher education systems.

Media contact: Melanie Moran, (615) 322-NEWS