An overwhelming majority of Californians think not enough state funding is going to their public schools and that K-12 education is the area they most want to protect from spending cuts, according to a recent survey.
“Californians and Education,” an annual survey released by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), found 62 percent of Californians polled who think their local schools aren’t receiving enough state funding. That’s a 10 percent increase from last year’s survey.
“This year, we are seeing growing concern in what’s happenings with funding and resource issues in California and how this will affect local schools,” said Sonja Petek of the PPIC.
The poll, conducted for the sixth year, interviewed 2,504 Californian adults in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. The questions also looked at attitudes about teacher quality and the achievement gap among different groups of students.
The findings indicate that the state is split on the best approach to determine teacher quality and merit-based competition. While Los Angeles County residents favor using experience as a criterion for assessing additional merit-based pay to teachers, San Francisco Bay Area residents do not.
“I don’t think experience matters,” said Rica Rice, youth employment services program coordinator at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. “Youth will respond better to people who are like them, people who are young and who have had shared experiences with them. Teaching is about ‘the approach,’ not the experience.”
Latinos (57 percent) were more likely than Asians (49 percent) and African Americans (48 percent) to support the idea of paying higher salaries to attract and retain teachers at schools in lower-income communities, even if it costs the state more money.
Money helps, but educational solutions that are too teacher-focused don’t address core problems, explained Frank Warrell, professor and associate dean of student affairs at UC Berkeley.
“Even if a student has a stable teaching force at a low-income school, we haven’t figured out how to account for the lack of educational capital in the household,” said Warrell, who examines variables that are related to academic achievement and that promote resilience, especially in adolescent African Americans.
“Student achievement isn’t just correlated to teacher quality; it’s a combination of engagement in the classroom, intellectual stimulation at home, and the amount of focused effort that kids puts into their schoolwork,” Warrell said.
John Rogers, associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA), said it was ironic that “at a moment where there is all this public attention around teacher quality, the infrastructure that is supposed to be in place to make better teachers is being eliminated.”
“Districts have cut professional development, academic coaches, assistant professors—all of which supported teacher quality development. We’re not enabling teachers to move along a pathway to provide higher quality instruction,” Rogers said.
The poll also found that public school parents are more likely than last year to say that state budget cuts are greatly affecting their child’s school. Nearly three quarters of African Americans think schools aren’t preparing students for jobs and the workforce, compared to 56 percent of both Asians and Latinos.
The achievement gap remains one of the most persistent concerns among public school parents, up 11 points from last year’s poll, with 63 percent of African Americans and 51 percent of Latinos responding that student achievement is a big problem.
But some education advocates say that raising low student achievement requires more than simply addressing teacher quality or low test scores.
“A lot of our youth are exposed to community violence and all kinds of problems at home. Their parents are struggling, their communities are struggling, and these issues affect their achievement. If your cousin gets shot, it’s hard to focus on your math homework,” said Jodi Tsapis, community outreach worker for Downtown High School in San Francisco