PACE/USC Rossier poll: Californians support teachers, schools but accountability concerns remain

08/31/2016

The fifth annual PACE/USC Rossier Poll finds that voters’ perceptions of local public schools have reached the highest level of confidence since the poll began. Voters also expressed strong support and empathy for teachers.

*For more information, contact Ross Brenneman at (213) 740-2327 or rossbren@rossier.usc.edu.

Californians are showing an increased faith and optimism in local public schools and teachers but believe there is room for improvement, according to the latest results of the fifth annual PACE/USC Rossier School of Education poll.

Twenty-three percent of Californians believe that their local public schools have “gotten better” over the past few years while 35 percent believe they have “stayed the same,” the poll showed. Thirty percent say their local schools have “gotten worse.” When the same question was asked four years ago, only 11% said schools had gotten better and 45% said schools had gotten worse.

"Californians are clearly noting some progress in our schools, particularly when asked about local schools. This is a positive trend," said Morgan Polikoff, associate professor of education at the USC Rossier School of Education and a researcher for the poll. "The question is whether that progress is real and whether it will be sustained. Are kids better off? These will be important issues to watch as new school accountability systems required under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act are implemented."

California voters’ views of their local schools stand in contrast to national trends. While recent national polling has shown that the public’s views toward their local schools have not appreciably changed since 2000, Californians are defying that trend by becoming more positive about their local schools.

"It's a good sign to see more Californians feeling positive about their local public schools,” said Karen Symms Gallagher, dean of the USC Rossier School of Education. “There's still a lot of work to do. But one of the first steps in providing a good education for students is having communities that believe in their schools."

The results also contain encouraging signs for the teaching profession: 71 percent of voters said they would encourage a young person to go into teaching. Over 90 percent cited the ability of teachers to make a difference in children’s lives.

“Counter to the dominant narrative we’ve been hearing for some time, these results indicate widespread respect for and recognition of the value of the teaching profession,” said Julie Marsh, a co-director of PACE, researcher for the poll, and an associate professor of education at the USC Rossier School of Education.

The sticking point for those who would not encourage young people to become teachers? Salary and compensation. Voters expressed major reservations about low teacher salaries. More than 70% of voters who wouldn’t recommend becoming a teacher indicated that salary or compensation contributed to their position.

Across the board, a majority of voters showed enthusiasm for paying teachers more. They said they supported higher pay for all teachers, higher pay for those who work in schools serving large numbers of disadvantaged students, and higher pay for teachers if they are instructors for subjects that often face shortages, such as science, technology, engineering and math, and special education.
But paying for that would be difficult, and the poll doesn’t show how much tolerance voters will have for additional spending or what additional policy options they’d support to increase teacher pay.
“It is always hard to ask about tradeoffs in polls, and the issue of teacher pay is a major area where tradeoffs matter,” Polikoff said. “Increasing teacher pay is a fine policy option, but it's also very expensive. Teacher pay is by far the biggest contributor to educational spending.”

Another kink: While voters expressed support for pay increases, especially as a way to address teacher shortages, more respondents expressed support for reforming school operations (26 percent) than for increased funding (15 percent), and a majority (58 percent) favored a combination. On top of that, many respondents said they believed there is room for teachers to improve, with voters indicating that at least a third of California teachers need support to improve.

Methodology: The PACE/USC Rossier Poll was conducted August 23-30, 2016 by Tulchin Research and Moore Information and surveyed 1,202 registered California voters. The poll was conducted online and allowed respondents to complete the survey on a desktop or laptop computer, tablet or smartphone. The poll was conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.83 percentage points.

For additional information about the poll and its methodology, visit www.edpolicyinca.org.

ABOUT THE USC ROSSIER SCHOOL OF EDUCATION: The mission of the USC Rossier School of Education is to improve learning in urban education locally, nationally and globally. USC Rossier leads the way in innovative, collaborative solutions to improve education outcomes. Their work is field-based, in the classroom, and online, and reflects a diversity of perspectives and experiences. USC Rossier prides itself on innovation in all its programs, preparing teachers, administrators, and educational leaders who are change agents. The school supports the most forward-thinking scholars and researchers, whose work is having direct impact on student success in K-12 schools and higher education. USC Rossier is a leader in using cutting-edge technology to scale up its quality programs for maximum impact.

ABOUT PACE: Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) is an independent, non-partisan research center based at Stanford University, the University of California-Davis and the University of Southern California. PACE seeks to define and sustain a long-term strategy for comprehensive policy reform and continuous improvement in performance at all levels of California’s education system, from early childhood to post-secondary education and training. PACE bridges the gap between research and policy, working with scholars from California’s leading universities and with state and local policymakers to increase the impact of academic research on educational policy in California.

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