Parents approve of Calif. school quality measures, poll finds

February 7, 2018

Results from the sixth annual USC Rossier/PACE poll also found support for increasing school funding

By Ross Brenneman

California parents are getting behind some of the state’s most recent school accountability strategies, according to results from a new poll.

Launched in March 2017, the California School Dashboard is an online tool that shows how schools are performing according to the various indicators that comprise the state’s education accountability system. The state hoped the dashboard would better inform parents as well as improve equity in schools. Some organizations panned the system when it debuted, with one calling it “more confusing than practical.”

Yet a new poll finds that a majority of voters who had heard of the system had a positive impression, and among parent voters, 72 percent said they had a positive impression of the dashboard. Majorities of all respondents also said they thought the dashboard captured the most important measures of school quality, that it was easy to understand and that it was an effective means to communicate outcomes.

Those voter opinions come from the sixth annual edition of the USC Rossier/PACE poll, a partnership of the USC Rossier School of Education, and Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), a university-affiliated, nonpartisan research center.

“Innovation takes time, but our schools will keep facing the same inequities unless we’re willing to take some risks, and California is taking some risks,” said Karen Symms Gallagher, dean of USC Rossier. “It’s clear that parents are willing to give their support to a system designed to make school quality transparent and accessible, and it’s important for state leaders to keep refining the dashboard if they want to build on that support.”

Polling firms Tulchin Research and Moore Information conducted the online survey of 2,500 registered California voters from January 21-28, getting data on overall voter attitudes as well as preferences among parent voters. USC Rossier professors Julie Marsh, Morgan Polikoff and David Quinn designed the questions with PACE executive director David N. Plank and the polling firms.

School accountability measures

Respondents were somewhat split on how they felt toward using multiple measures in school accountability. While most states under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act now give single overall performance ratings to schools, California opted to offer several ratings, for things like absenteeism, suspension rates and graduation rates. Overall respondents were, by a slim majority, more supportive of using multiple measures than parents, where a majority preferred a simple overall grade.

“It may be that parents feel more pressure to actually make decisions about schools for their children, and that’s why they’d like to have a simple overall grade of some kind,” Polikoff said.

Voters OK spending more

It may be of interest to researchers to keep tracking views on accountability, as the same poll also finds that views toward public schools are trending negative. Forty-three percent of respondents said that California’s public schools have gotten worse over the past few years, up from 39 percent in August 2016; a plurality of voters (44 percent) would give California’s public schools an overall grade of ‘C.’

And asked about funding a variety of ways—and given information on what percent of the state budget is spent on education, or about what the state spends per pupil—a majority of voters nevertheless said that the state should spend more on public schools.“Public opinion appears to align with broader calls from district leaders throughout the state who report struggling with rising costs related to pensions and special education and deep concerns about adequacy of funding,” Marsh said.

Among other major findings of the poll:

  • Voter awareness of the state’s funding system, the Local Control Funding Formula, remains low. Only 17 percent of voters had read a lot or even just a little about it, up one percentage point from August 2016. Yet, support for LCFF remains high both among those who have heard of LCFF and among all voters after being given a basic description of the policy.
  • When asked how much of a priority should be given to combating inequalities in education outcomes between white students and students of color, 60 percent of voters said it should be a high priority, if not essential. Yet they showed no clear opinion on what kind of funding solutions should be part of that work. Only 56 percent of voters said they thought racism and discrimination played a part in test score differences between races, while greater majorities said those differences were due to school quality, motivation, parenting and differences in income levels.
  • While voters wavered on whether California should have more or fewer charter schools based on perceived political support for them by President Donald Trump or former President Barack Obama, a quarter of respondents said that the state has “about the right amount of charter schools.”
  • When schools perform well, 68 percent of voters said that teachers deserved the most credit—the only group to get a majority of support; fewer voters (30 percent) would blame teachers if schools were failing.
  • And some more good news for teachers: 91 percent of parents gave their local public school teachers a passing grade.

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