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California Voters Give Schools And Teachers Top Grades In Year-End Survey

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Despite perceptions of the public's widespread unhappiness with the slow reopening of California's schools last spring, most voters surveyed, including parents, gave the highest marks in a decade of polling to the state's public schools in general and their schools in particular.

However, on most issues in the survey, Democrats and Republicans generally disagreed. One notable issue was whether schools should spend more time teaching about the causes and consequences of racism and inequality.

At the same time, they also expressed worry about the effects of the pandemic on children and said they'd strongly support various measures to accelerate student learning, including hiring counselors and providing intensive tutoring and summer school.

The independent, nonpartisan research center PACE and the USC Rossier School of Education released their ninth annual poll on education on Thursday. The survey firm Tulchin Research solicited views of 2,000 registered California voters representative of the state's demographics and party affiliation, with an oversampling of 500 parents with children under 18 living at home. Surveys were conducted in English and Spanish.

Researchers chose May, with schools winding down after a partial return to in-person instruction, because it enabled participants to reflect on the year and look ahead, said Heather Hough, PACE's executive director. Given widespread news reports showing anger and mistrust toward schools, Hough said she expected more criticism. Instead, a record 38 percent of voters overall and 53 percent of parents gave A or B grades to schools statewide; 51 percent of voters and 61 percent of parents gave A or B to their local public schools.

One of the researchers characterized this as "grading on a curve," Hough said, giving credit to schools for the efforts they made during a difficult year.

The disparity was wide among voters by party, however, with 29 percent of Republicans giving schools statewide an A or B and 41 percent giving a D or F, compared with 47 percent of Democrats giving an A or B and only 17 percent giving schools statewide a D or F. The rest gave schools a C.

The majority of voters and parents gave A or B to teachers and superintendents, and 69 percent of parents said they would encourage a young person to become a teacher, an increase from 60 percent from the last poll, which was taken pre-pandemic, in January 2020.

Voters were presented a list of the potential areas of concern because of the pandemic's impact on students and asked to rate them 1 to 10, with 10 being "very important."

Voters overall cited students falling behind academically as the most pressing issue, with the impact on English learners and special education students a close second. Parents cited the impact on emotional and mental health as No. 1, which was third for all voters.

Voters' experiences during the Covid pandemic varied significantly by income, and, to an extent, by race and ethnicity. Confirming what other surveys have indicated, lower-income families were the hardest hit: for families earning under $35,000 per year, 37 percent said their income worsened and 14 percent said it improved during the pandemic; for families earning more than $150,000, it was the opposite: 30 percent said their income had improved and 17 percent said it worsened.

Asked to describe their children's educational experience during the pandemic, 58 percent of families earning under $75,000 said it had gotten worse, compared with 48 percent of families earning more than $150,000; 39 percent of those earning more than $150,000 said it had gotten better, compared with 26 percent of families earning less than $35,000.