Keeping the customer satisfied Howard County: School system merits praise for surveying employees, students and parents.

December 01, 1998

CUSTOMER satisfaction is as important for schools as for any enterprise. Howard County schools deserve praise for conducting a new survey that reveals what parents, students and teachers think of the system.

Most participants in the survey were satisfied. About 86 percent said Howard schools "promote creativity, responsible risk-taking, cooperation, mutual trust and respect." Shortcomings pointed out by the survey were known. But reiterating these problems should spark efforts to address them.

Participants expressed concern about the gap in academic achievement of minority students. Only about 36 percent said the academic achievement of African Americans is "free of patterns associated with gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status." Test scores are significantly lower and dropout rates higher for black and Hispanic students in the county.

One somewhat surprising survey result was the satisfaction with school discipline. Despite anecdotes about classroom unruliness, only 36 percent of school staff said student behavior was a problem. But 54 percent of students and 46 percent of parents said they think too many students misbehave, indicating a need for improvement.

That is the final assessment in all areas of the survey -- that public education in Howard County is good but can be better. Seventy-three percent of the 51,000 parents, teachers and students who answered the survey are satisfied with the schools. But that means a significant number, 27 percent, don't agree.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey says another survey will be conducted in the spring. That's good. Any shop owner will tell you it's impossible to make every customer happy. But that doesn't mean you stop trying. Asking the public how it thinks the schools are doing can help the system decide what it is doing right and what it needs to do differently.

Pub Date: 12/01/98

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