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You never asked me!

When I founded School Perceptions 20 years ago, we conducted community surveys to help school districts plan and prepare for potential referendums. We did this by surveying a small sample of each community.

This approach is called “random stratified sampling,” and it was the way everyone had always done it. We took the sampling data and “extrapolated” it to represent the entire community. In the – ahem – “old days,” this feedback was gathered through a landline telephone survey.

This may have worked back in 2003, when, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 95 percent of households had a landline.

Today, the vast majority of adults in the United States are wireless. And if you receive a call on your cell phone these days from an unknown number, if you are like me, you won’t answer it.

Using this approach to gather the public’s perception data has many flaws. Rarely is any sample truly representative of the entire population. Traditionally underrepresented groups can be tracked down in a door-to-door census campaign, but it is expensive and time-consuming to do the same in a community survey. Very few organizations have the time or budget for this level of effort to ensure you of a perfect representative sample.

Worse yet, this sampling approach leaves many people saying, “Well, they never asked me what I thought!”


“Random sampling surveys leave nine out of ten people in your community wondering why no one cares what they think. These types of ‘scientific’ surveys also leave your most influential community members dangerously uninformed about issues important to your school district.”


Some surveyors will focus on the singular behavior like voting but, by doing so, often miss the bigger picture. If the purpose of your survey is to predict the outcome of a possible referendum, understanding the priorities of your taxpayers is essential.

More than 15 years ago, School Perceptions pioneered our “inclusive survey approach.” In other words, all taxpayers have the opportunity to participate in the survey. With this approach, not everyone will take the survey, but all survey recipients are educated regarding the challenges the school district is facing and the options being explored. Quantifying tax tolerance and overall satisfaction is also critical to your success.

After completing more than 850 community projects in 10,000 districts over the past 20 years, the School Perceptions methodology has proven highly predictive. At the end of the day, we know people are more likely to a plan that they understand and have a voice in creating.


The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Bill Foster, President & Founder.


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