Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

James McMillan


Abstract COGNITIVE ORIGINS OF THE “BIMBY” EFFECT: A MIXED METHODS EXPLORATION OF SURVEY RATINGS REGARDING THE QUALITY OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS By James M. Ellis, Jr., Ph.D. A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Virginia Commonwealth University, 2011. Director: James H. McMillan, Ph.D. Professor of Education, School of Education Public education and public opinion are pillars of democracy. In surveys about education, respondents in aggregate almost always rate schools attended by their children highest, schools in their communities moderately, and schools in the nation poorly. This phenomenon holds for many other survey topics. Some call it “BIMBY” for “better in my back yard.” This dissertation used mixed methods to investigate BIMBY. Eight qualitative interviews with nine participants used grounded theory to generate hypotheses about BIMBY’s causes. This research revealed a qualitative “insider” view of school quality used by participants for schools familiar to them, and a more quantitative “outsider” view used for unfamiliar schools. The qualitative research generated four main hypotheses tested in a quantitative survey: xviii 1. An empathy hypothesis, tested by framing “nurturant” and “strict” sets of propositions about public schools. 2. A hypothesis about lack of information, tested by sometimes offering explicit don’t know options for school ratings. 3. A community attachment hypothesis, tested by sometimes offering questions about community activities and the like. 4. A hypothesis about a sense of the “here and now,” tested by sometimes asking respondents the number of times they changed schools. This was a full factorial design using sixteen forms of a brief mail survey. A truncated Dillman protocol was used with a randomly selected sample of 960 residences in the Richmond and Charlottesville areas. There were 208 completed surveys. The empathy experiment increased ratings for schools at all levels. Additional analyses indicated that ratings for both local and national schools were influenced by the empathy experiment and the respondent’s world view (nurturant or strict). Ratings for local schools were also influenced by the type of area in which respondents lived (urban, suburban, etc.) and opinions about their communities. Ratings for schools nationally were also influenced by the experiments regarding explicit don’t know responses and community attachment. Thus, respondents draw on different domains of opinion when rating different schools. Ratings for local schools relate to opinions about the community. Ratings for schools nationally may relate to a general world view and the respondent’s identities within the community and the nation.


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VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

December 2011

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