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New USC poll on statewide education: good, bad, predictable

LA School Report | April 13, 2015

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usc pollResults from a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released over the weekend had a little something for everyone in the education wars, with overall results that were anything but shocking.

The ambiguity was especially true for teachers, who respondents said deserved a raise but should not have the same job protections they have now.

More specifically, 56 percent of voters said they believed teachers are underpaid, with only 5 percent saying their paid too much.

On the other hand, 38 percent said California teachers shouldn’t be given tenure, which comes with strong job security and makes it more difficult to fire poor-performing teachers, and another 35 percent said tenure should not be granted until a teacher has been on the job for at least 4 to 10 years.

As the largest statewide survey of registered voters, the poll was conducted March 28-April 7 and surveyed 1,504 registered voters, with a significant oversample of Latino voters and strong presence of cell phone samples. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 2.7 percentage points.

Here’s is a sampling of the results, by issue:

Method of layoffs

Voters rejected the notion that teachers should be laid off based on seniority, a practice that was struck down as unconstitutional in last June’s Vergara v. California ruling. When asked how California schools should lay off teachers in times of budget pressures, 53 percent said layoffs should first target teachers who receive poor marks in classroom observations, and 26 percent said teachers whose students did not make enough progress on standardized tests throughout the year should be laid off first.

Just 8 percent said layoffs should first target the teacher with the least seniority or classroom experience.

“Seniority is clearly the least important factor in teacher performance. Voters across all demographic groups reject the ‘last in, first out’ policy by overwhelming margins,” said David Kanevsky, vice president of Republican polling firm, American Viewpoint, that conducted the poll with the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

When asked whether administrators should take into account teacher performance or years of teaching when making layoff decisions, 82 percent said administrators should take performance more into account compared with 11 percent who said seniority should be taken more into account.

“Californians want their children’s teachers to succeed and want to give them every tool possible to succeed, but they are also willing to take stronger steps to remove ineffective teachers in the classroom,” said Dan Schnur, the poll director and executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of USC. “At a certain point if teachers don’t succeed, voters want to replace them with people who will.”

Basing teachers pay

When asked what should determine teacher pay, 86 percent said a teacher’s education and training should be either the most important or an important factor, followed by 77 percent who said their students’ achievement and progress on a range of measures including standardized tests, classroom observations and parent feedback; 77 percent said whether the teacher is at a low-performing school where students need the most help; 64 percent who said students’ achievement and progress on standardized tests; and 57 percent who said seniority in the number of years of classroom teaching experience.

Improving the quality of schools

When asked to choose from a list of reforms that would improve the quality of public schools, the highest percentage of voters, 82 percent, chose providing teachers with a one-year apprenticeship with a high-performing experienced teacher before they are given their own classroom.

Seventy-three percent of voters said making it easier to fire underperforming teachers would improve the quality of public schools; 71 percent said putting more money into public schools in economically disadvantaged areas; 64 percent said tying teachers’ salaries to performance evaluations; and 52 percent said extending the tax increase that provides additional funding to public schools and other programs.

Standardized testing

Forty-seven percent of voters agreed with the statement that standardized testing hurts education in California by pressuring teachers to teach to the test and fails to account for differences in cultural and economic backgrounds and learning style

In contrast, 46 percent said that standardized testing improves education by providing teachers with information, allowing parents to see their children’s progress, and holding schools accountable for student progress.

When asked whether testing students in 3rd through 11th grades annually was the right amount, 40 percent said it was “about right,” 37 percent said it was “too much” and 15 percent said it was “not enough.”

Charter schools

A majority had positive impressions of charters, saying they would consider enrolling their child in a charter school, with 61 percent of parents saying charter schools were an option and 32 percent saying they would not consider charter schools for their child. That’s up nine percentage points since the question was asked as part of the 2011 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, when 52 percent of parents said they considered charter schools an option for their child.

But voters thought funds should be directed at traditional public schools rather than creating new charter campuses, with 59 percent favoring investments in traditional public schools over increasing the number of charter schools. Twenty-nine percent supported opening more charter schools instead of spending additional funds on public schools.

Forty-eight percent of voters said charter schools, which are independently run public schools, provide a higher-quality public education than traditional public schools, and 25 percent said charter schools do not provide a better education than traditional public schools.

“Californians are very supportive of charter schools, but they also strongly value the role of traditional public schools as well,” said Schnur. “They see the benefits for their own children of having the option of attending a charter school, but they want to make sure that traditional public schools have the funding they need to succeed.”

Who can improve schools

Voters also named teachers as the group they most trust to improve the state’s public schools. Half of voters said they most trusted teachers at schools in their community to improve public schools, followed by 48 percent who named parents of public school students. Twenty-two percent of voters said they most trusted teachers’ unions to improve public schools, followed by 17 percent who named school administrators and superintendents.

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