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What to Make of District 113's Survey Results

Ed Brill dissects the results from the high school district's survey to residents about spending priorities.

I want to believe.

In January, District 113 conducted a survey of area residents to learn more about spending priorities in and Deerfield High Schools. After the survey was completed, I .

Earlier this month, District 113 announced that the survey results were in. The findings were presented at a meeting of the district's market research study group, and while that meeting's minutes are not posted, the presentation charts used are available online. Unfortunately, despite my earlier column, I didn't receive any advance notice of the plan to present the results. As such, I can only base my opinion today on what's in the charts and the District's news release; these are the same tools any interested parent or voter could obtain.

In my day job, I run a brand management team where we rely on market research and analysis for a variety of activities. As such, I am quite used to reading the results of market research. Normally, the number of pie charts and bar graphs is enough for a whole series of Dilbert comic strips, which is why I was surprised to find the District 113 report is more of a qualitative narrative. Some of the individual statistics are cited, but no raw data is ever actually provided. I should clarify: by raw data what I am seeking is the actual number of respondents who indicated each particular answer or choice to the survey questions. I'm not looking for names and email addresses.

In the discussion on my last column, it was somehow asserted that publishing raw data would be unethical. I don't see how that would be the case. All of us who responded to the survey believed we were responding to a public government entity, and would have no expectation of the aggregate data being private. Thus I was surprised when I received a follow-up email from district113confidentialresearch at gmail.com about the survey; I did not know how this random gmail account got my email address. A level of transparency, and a chance for the district to build more trust with the community, seems to have gone missing.

Without the data, we are left to believe the interpretation of the market researcher, Marci Cohen of Highland Park. I have no reason to doubt her credentials; according to District 113 and LinkedIn, she runs a market research firm.

Cohen does a reasonable job of setting up the validity of the survey results. While it still remains possible that respondents lied about their age, voting status, etc., Cohen claims the validated vs. non-validated responses follow similar patterns. I am therefore willing to put issues of sample bias aside while reviewing the results.

The survey touched on several key areas of potential investment for the schools. Unsurprisingly, survey respondents were in favor of repair and maintenance. The survey also asked whether the 1905 buildings at Highland Park High should be replaced or renovated; it is reported that most agree with renovation. However, the limited data provided and the qualitative analysis in the district presentation don't line up here -- 39 percent said that there is "a lot of heritage" to these buildings, yet the presentation claims "The heritage of the buildings does not matter that much to the community." Personally, it matters to me, and apparently four in ten of the survey respondents.

Considering that much of the referendum was targeted to improve sports and physical education facilities in the schools, survey responses on these topics are surprisingly only covered in one page of generalities. From this point in the presentation forward, none of the survey results are called out specifically, and issues such as pool or field replacement are never discussed. The subsequent topics of job training and academics are also only lightly touched.

Putting myself in the shoes of the average voter, the district's presentation of survey results therefore communicates relatively little new information. It confirms that the community does not support the full scale of the 2011 referendum, but other than the 1905 buildings, the presentation does little to further typical voter knowledge of what the relative priorities are for voters in the district. Furthermore, the lack of published data means that we cannot draw conclusions of our own, and are left to rely on one person's interpretations. 

If I were District 113, trying to win in the court of public opinion, I would publish the validated data. The survey was conducted in part at district, and therefore taxpayer, expense (postcards were mailed to district residents). Don't we deserve the ability to draw our own educated conclusions?

Bringin' Down Briarwood April 01, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Unbelievable!!!! What is preventing you from joining the meetings and getting access to the raw data that you supposedly so desperately want? Maybe even ask questions of a few committee members who seem very open to explaining their process? Instead, you just fire away with the same influential purpose you're trying to speak out against in the survey. I believe the meetings are once a month. If you can't find time once a month, then you must not want the information all that much. I am SOOOOOOO tired of people who obviously have another agenda bashing this process when it is WIDE open to the public, and they don't take advantage. Yes, Ed, we can see this coming a mile away. You won't like what the board and committees present, and you're building your case. We get it. Now get off your keyboard and go get the information you're looking for and quit pretending that it's not there for anyone who REALLY wants it. And lastly, how much more arrogant can you be to believe that YOU should have been given "advance notice of the plan to present the results?" If you want to be little junior journalist, do a little reporting ... anything. (As an aside to the Patch, the same column is posted at another URL (http://deerfield.patch.com/articles/what-to-make-of-district-113s-survey-results#comments) for the Deerfield paper. Excuse my double posting, but it looks like this is where the conversation is happening.)
Bob Levi April 01, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Hey BDB, Did you ever consider the reason for the "double posting" is that the Village of Deerfield is part of School District 113? I would imagine property owners in Deerfield have a sake in the situation at HP High School. So I wonder: Is this only a Highland Park issue or one for all residents within SD 113?
Bringin' Down Briarwood April 01, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Sorry, Bob. I can understand how my cr*ppy tone could be taken the way you took it. Regarding the link, I was just trying to bring up the issue to the Patch. Usually, the Patch is pretty good about sending posts such as this one that affect both communities to one common page.
Bob Levi April 01, 2012 at 10:16 PM
BDB, I don't see where I commented on your "cr*appy tone" in your earlier post. My Mother always told me that if you can't say anything good about someone, don't say it. My comments are not meant to be personal. Sorry you may have taken the recent one that way.
Bringin' Down Briarwood April 02, 2012 at 12:50 AM
The cr*ppy tone is on me again, Bob ... both times. You didn't comment on it, and I didn't take your messages personally. I was truly trying to state that my intentions were not as angry as my initial message. Just trying to point something out. My apologies for communicating poorly. Neither the message to the Patch nor the reply to you were meant as shots at anybody except myself.

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