Students Rate California's Schools

According to a Los Angeles Times poll on education taken a few months after the start of the 1997-98 school year, students between the ages of 12 and 17 said they are pretty satisfied with the public school education they are receiving and believe a good education is important. Most of the students rate the quality of their public school education as excellent or good, grade their school either an A or a B, and rate their teachers a solid A or B. A majority say it is extremely important to them to get a good education, vis a vis the only way to succeed is through a good education, and getting it is the means to finding a good job. College is also very important to them.

Quality of Education

At the time of the survey, three-quarters of the students believed the quality of education they receive is excellent or good, including 20% excellent and 56% good. About a fifth called it fair and just 3% said poor. This is opposite to what all Californian adults and parents thought when they were asked to rate the quality of education at the local public schools in their community. Teachers, on the other hand, have as high opinion of the quality of education as students.

Asked to give a report card grade to the school they are now attending, most students had a very favorable opinion of their school -- 37% gave it an A and 46% gave it a B. The average grade was a B. Younger kids (12-14 years old) gave their school a grade of A (41%) while a third of those 15-17 years old gave their school an A. Boys liked their school more than girls (boys: 41% an A, vs. girls: 33% an A). Virtually all students had a good opinion about their school (13% gave their school a C, only 2% gave a grade of D and just 1% gave an F).

Not only did they have a high regard for their school, most of the students also gave strong positive ratings to their teachers. About half of the kids gave their teachers a report card grade of A, and another 42% gave them a B. Virtually none of the students thought poorly of the teachers teaching them. The average grade for their teachers was a solid B. More than half (52%) of the younger students (12-14 years old) rated their teachers an A, while 44% of those 15-17 years old rated their teachers an A. Also more boys (52%) than girls (45%) gave their teachers an A.

Overall, students felt the most important problem facing their schools today is crime. Thirteen percent mentioned violence, 15% said drugs, 8% said gangs and 3% mentioned other crime factors. Hardly any other problem came up with more than 3% of mentions except for lack of discipline in the classrooms (7%) and classrooms being too large (6%). More than twice as many girls (10%) than boys (4%) said lack of discipline is a major problem.

In grading themselves on how well they were doing in school, 26% said they deserved an A, 56% thought they deserved a B, 17% a C, and just 1% said they are only worthy of a D. Virtually none of the students interviewed believed they were failing. This is in contrast to opinions from teacher results found in a separate poll where one-third of the teachers said they would have liked to have held back more than 15% of their students. Also only 54% of teachers said more than 50% of their students read on grade level.

Girls seemed to think they are doing better than boys -- a third of the girls said they would give themselves an A, while 19% of boys gave this response. Twenty percent of boys said they deserve a C, while 14% of girls felt that way. Students overall, however, gave themselves a solid B average.

Of those students who graded themselves a B or less (62%), the poll asked what would help them do better in school: 25% said better teachers and 11% thought if they studied more and tried harder their grades would improve. Boys and girls were no different on this question -- they both wanted better teachers who would improve their performance.

Standardized Testing

Nine out of ten students take standardized testing seriously, including 40% who take them very seriously, and 50% somewhat seriously. However, 12% of the students said they wouldn't work harder even if passing these standardized tests was required to advance to the next grade or to graduate. This may be accounted for by the students believing they are doing well in school and don't need to work harder. And about half (49%) said they would work much harder, while a third (35%) believed they would work somewhat harder if they knew passing a standardized test was required for promotion.

The younger cohort (12-14 years old) would work harder at passing these tests than their older counterparts (15-17 years old). Almost three times as many older teenagers (19%) as younger respondents (7%) said they wouldn't work harder if they knew they had to pass a standardized test in order to advance to the next grade.

Receiving a Good Education

All students -- boys and girls, younger and older kids -- believe it is important to get a good education, including an overwhelming 87% who said it is very important. Is education the only way to succeed? About 3 in 10 of the students believe it is the only way to succeed in life, another 62% believe it is important, but not the only way, 9% said it is somewhat important (for a total of 71% who said important). None of the students believe it is not important to get an education. Education is the way out for many kids and they know it. A lot of ethnic and racial minority parents, as well as parents overall, want their children to succeed and may believe education leads to better paying jobs and a better quality of life. And the students seemed to believe in this notion as well. For example, far and above all other answers when asked what a good education means to them -- 55% of students said a good education means a good job, 13% mentioned college and 11% said learning about many different things. Boys, particularly, mentioned getting a good job (62%) in higher proportions than girls (46%). And girls mentioned getting into college (15%) slightly more than boys (10%) did.

Yet, virtually all students said going to college is important, including almost 4 out five students (79%) who said it is very important. While they felt college is important, only 64% thought they would definitely go to college, while 27% felt they probably would go. More girls (78%) than boys (51%) said they would definitely go on to college. Only 6% believed they definitely or probably would not go to college. Some of the reasons given for not going to college are: affordability, military enlistment, and not having good enough grades.

Teachers and the Classroom

Seven in 10 kids believed they get enough attention from teachers. However, a third of girls didn't feel that way (while 67% felt they did get enough attention), compared to one-fifth (21%) of boys thinking they don't get enough attention. The students who go to middle school thought they got enough personal attention (76% enough, 19% not enough), more so than high school students (68% enough, 32% not enough). The reasons students cited for not getting enough attention are: classes being too large (49%) and teachers not caring (21%). Interestingly, almost twice as many girls mentioned classes being too large than boys, while more than three times as many boys than girls said teachers don't care.

Two out of five students said their classroom is disrupted by a student acting up or causing trouble everyday, while another fifth said this occurs at least three to four times a week. Only 5% of the students said their class is not disrupted at any time.

Students reported that their classmates are not ditching school as much as it is perceived. Less than one in ten (7%) of the students said that most students cut classes, while 6% said more than half cut and 15% suggested that about half of their classmates cut school. Still, 43% of the students said a few of the students in their classes ditch classes and another 26% said less than half of the students cut.

Homework and Parents Helping With Homework

In terms of help with homework, 40% of the kids said their parents always helped them with their homework, 26% said usually, 19% said sometimes, 9% said rarely, and 4% said their parents never helped them with their homework. More boys (72%) than girls (60%) are usually helped by their parents, while the younger and older students say they are helped roughly about the same. Of those students who said their parents helped them infrequently with their homework, the top mention of someone else helping them is: help from their friends at 14%, followed by a sibling at 9%, their teachers at 6%, or other relatives at 5%. But, these surrogates didn't help checking the homework on a regular basis. However, a majority of these students, 58%, said they don't get help from anyone other than their parents even though they are only helped sometimes, rarely or never.

More than 7 in 10 students surveyed, believed that they are given just about the right amount of homework each school day, 17% said too much and 9% believed they are given too little homework. All kids agreed on this subject, whether younger or older, or in middle school or high school. In terms of how much time they spend on homework each day, about a fifth (18%) said they spend less than 30 minutes on homework, 41% spend an hour a day (for a combined total of 59% spending one hour or less a day on homework), 21% said they spend about 2 hours, and another 13% said more than 2 hours (for a combined total of 34% spending 2 hours or more), while 7% said they don't get any homework. Girls spend more time on their homework than boys. Twice as many boys (23%) than girls (12%) spend less than 30 minutes on their homework, while 44% of girls spend 2 hours or more on their homework, compared to 26% of boys. Not surprisingly, the older teenager spends more time on homework than the younger ones. Two-thirds (67%) of middle school students spend at most one hour on their homework, compared to 53% for high school students. Twenty-three percent of high school students spend about two hours working on their homework and 14% have more than two hours of homework each day (for a combined 37% of students working on their homework two hours or more each day). In contrast, 19% of middle school students spend about 2 hours and another 11% spend more than two hours on schoolwork at home (for a combined 30%).

Among those students who have more than 2 hours of homework each day, 47% believed they have too much homework, 3% felt they have too little, and 47% believed the amount of homework they have is just about right. And among those who had about 2 hours of homework a day, only 23% thought that it was too much, and just 2% said too little. Still, most agreed (73%) that they had just about the right amount of homework each day.

When asked about the difficulty of their schoolwork and the tests they have to take, most of the students (78%) believed the level of difficulty is just about right, with 12% saying the level is too difficult and 9% saying it is too easy. All subgroups of kids concur.

An interesting finding in this study was that only 2% of the students reported that none of their classmates cheated on tests and assignments. A third of those surveyed felt all or most kids cheated (9% said all and 24% said most), while two-thirds believed some or few kids cheat (40% responded some and 26% mentioned a few). Nearly two out of five girls surveyed thought kids cheat all or most of the time, while a quarter of the boys polled felt that way. And nearly twice as many older teenagers (43%) thought all or most of the kids in their classes cheat, as did the younger cohort (24%).

Problems That Schools May or May Not Have

With stories being written about a lack of textbooks to go around for each student in different classrooms and textbooks being out-of-date, the findings in this survey were somewhat surprising. A full 73% of the students said they have enough textbooks in each of their classes and don't have to share. However, 27% of all students said they have to share at least in one of their subject classes -- 14% said they had to share their books in one subject, 8% said they had to share books in two subjects and 5% said in three or more subjects. Results among middle and high school students were no different than the overall sample.

And a large majority (58%) don't think textbooks being out-of-date is a serious problem. Conversely 42% do think it is a serious problem. Students who are between 12 and 14 years old were much more likely to believe out-of-date textbooks weren't a problem than those between 15 and 17 years old. In Los Angeles county half of the kids called this a serious problem and half said it wasn't a serious problem. In Southern California, excluding Los Angeles, 39% of the students surveyed said it is a serious problem, 61% not a serious problem. (Rest of Northern California and the Bay area share of kids have too small a base to mention any percentages).

The students surveyed also believed out-of-date equipment and technology is not a serious problem (38%-61%). Furthermore, just a third said old and run down school buildings is a serious problem, while 66% said it is not a serious problem. They also believed there are enough computers in their school (60%).

Los Angeles County students were split on whether or not out of date equipment or technology is a serious problem or not (49%-50%). Once again, Los Angeles County has more of a problem in this area than the other regions of the state. In Southern California, excluding Los Angeles, 39% of the students reported old equipment and antiquated technology is a serious problem, while 61% said it isn't.

Students, however, in Los Angeles County, the rest of Southern California and Central Valley have similar thoughts about computers and the lack thereof in their classroom. Students in Los Angeles are somewhat divided as to whether the lack of computers in their school is a serious problem or not (49%, 51% respectively). More than two out of five each of the students in Southern California and the Central Valley said this computer inadequacy in their classroom is a serious problem, while nearly 3 out of five students in these two areas said it is not a serious problem for their schools.

Most students surveyed said kids who do not speak English fluently in their classes is not a problem (68%) in their school. Yet 32% thought it is a problem. Students in all subgroups -- high school, middle school, older and younger teenagers, as well as boys and girls also agree that this isn't a serious problem in their schools.

And they are divided over whether overcrowded classrooms is a serious problem or not (47%-53%). Almost 3 out of five girls said it is a serious problem, while almost the same share (63%) of boys said it isn't. Opposite views are given by older teenagers (56%) who said it is a serious problem compared to 59% of younger students who said it isn't.

But students strongly called drug use in school a serious problem (58%), including 31% who said this problem is very serious. Forty-two percent don't think it is a serious problem. More girls (65%) than boys (51%) and more high school students (66%) than middle school students (47%) said it is a serious problem. Students from most areas of the state believed drugs to be a serious problem in their schools.

Treatment of Boys and Girls and Minorities; Bilingual Education

Four out of five students believed boys and girls are treated equally in the classroom, but 13% of girls thought boys are treated better and 9% of boys believed girls are treated better.

A large majority of students (82%) said that all students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds are treated equally. However, 16% mentioned that some groups are treated better than others, including 8% who think white students get preferential treatment, 4% think Latino students, 3% think Asian students and just 1% thought black students are treated better than any other ethnic and racial groups.

Of those who said one group is treated better than other groups, 25% believed Latino students are treated worse than all other groups, followed by 17% who believed black students are treated worse, 9% said white students and 5% said Asian students are treated worse.

With Proposition 227 qualifying for the June 2nd primary ballot, we asked students their impression of bilingual education and whether there was a bilingual education program in their schools. This initiative would require all public school instruction be conducted in English and provide short-term English immersion programs for children not fluent in English. A majority of students (52%) said they have a favorable impression of bilingual education. Forty percent of them said they had no opinion of the program. Just 8% had an unfavorable impression. There were no differences between white and Latino students (and they felt the same as all students.) Considering a large Latino student population (i.e., about 70% of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District is Latino), a surprising one-third of all students said there are no bilingual programs in their school, 30% believe there are bilingual programs in their schools and 25% said there are programs but they aren't in any of them.

Computer Usage

Virtually all students (87%) have access to a computer whether at school (27%) or at home (10%) or both at school and at home (50%). A majority of the kids (53%) said they often use a computer, 34% said they sometimes use a computer (for a combined total of 87% using the computer often or sometimes), 10% said rarely and only 3% said they never use a computer.

Safety at School

Alarmingly, 48% of students said they avoid using the bathrooms in their school. More high school students (53%) than middle school kids (42%) avoid using the bathroom. Those who avoid the bathrooms do so because they are filthy (66%) or have broken toilets or sinks that don't work, or toilets that don't flush (21%).

More than 9 out of 10 kids said they feel safe in their school, including 50% who said they feel very safe. This crosses all age groups, gender and school levels. Although more than 9 out of 10 students in Los Angeles county schools said they feel safe, just 39% said they are "very" safe and 53% said they feel "somewhat" safe. The degree of safety in schools for students in other parts of California is higher than in L.A. county. Fifty-two percent of the students attending school in the rest of Southern California said they feel "very" safe, as do 51% of the students in the Central Valley. The rest of Northern California and the Bay areas students also feel very safe. (The bases are too small to give mention percentages.)

The students said they also feel safe from the threat of gang activity on their school campus (54% feel very safe, 36% feel somewhat safe). Still, 10% felt unsafe from gangs on their campus. Students attending classes in the rest of Northern California, excluding the Bay Area, said they feel the safest from the threat of gang activity. Fifty-three percent of the students going to school in the rest of Southern California, Los Angeles County (49%) and Central Valley (46%) all said they feel "very" safe and don't fear gang activity on their campus. Bay Area students also feel safe from gang activity in their schools.

Even though they professed feeling safe in school, 55% of the kids said there is often or sometimes violence in their school (24% often, 31% sometimes), while 45% said violence occurs rarely or never. Along these lines, 9% said they have seen or heard about a student carrying a weapon to school frequently, 16% occasionally and 31% hardly ever. Forty-four percent said they have not seen or heard about a student carrying a weapon (knife or gun) to school. This is a troublesome finding since schools should be a safe haven for students -- a nurturing environment that leads to higher learning.

Although 83% said they have never been in a fight, 14% said they had been in a fight and 2% had a weapon pulled on them.

As was mentioned before, drugs is considered a serious problem on many campuses and 41% said they have seen or heard about students buying drugs on campus, while 59% said they haven't seen or heard anyone doing this. More than twice as many 15-17 year olds (58%) than 12-14 year olds (27%) said they have seen this illegal practice on their campus.

Social Issues Affecting Students

There is much controversy about teaching students sex education, AIDS education, and allowing condoms to be given out on the school grounds. We asked students in this survey whether they should be taught these courses, and if so, in what grade should these subjects be offered.

Only 3% thought sex education should not be taught in school. Most kids felt it should be taught and it should be offered in the six grade or up. A whopping majority (85%) of students have already received some form of sex education in their classrooms, while 15% say they haven't received any sex education in school so far. Eight percent said they received this education in the third or fourth grades, 21% said the fifth grade, 24% received it in the sixth grade, 17% in the seventh grade and 15% said they received it in the eighth grade or higher.

They also believe AIDS education should be taught in schools. And most of the students said they have received AIDS education in their classrooms, but 17% hadn't received any AIDS education yet. Eight percent said they learned about AIDS in the fourth or fifth grades, 16% in the sixth grade, 19% in the seventh grade, 22% in the eighth grade and 13% in the ninth grade or higher.

Three out of five kids approved of schools giving condoms to students to prevent STD's and prevention of AIDS, 32% disapproved. All subgroups of students approved of this handout strongly.

Sixty percent of the kids said their friends smoke cigarettes, and another 38% said they don't. Eighty-one percent of high school kids said their friends smoke, while 32% of the middle school kids said that. More girls (64%) than boys (57%) said their friends smoke.

And half of the kids said their friends drink alcohol (14% frequently, 29% occasionally), while 47% said their friends don't drink. Again, more girls (54%) than boys (47%) said their friends drink alcohol. And large majority of high school students (70%) said their friends drink, while about a fourth (23%) of middle school students also said their friends drink.

Three out of five kids said their friends have tried marijuana. Again, slightly more girls (63%) than boys (57%) said their friends have tried pot. A third of middle school kids said this, while a full 80% of high school kids said their friends tried marijuana.

More than half (56%) of students know or have heard about a girl becoming pregnant, or having a baby, 44% haven't. More girls (64%) than boys (48%) know of someone who has gotten pregnant or had a baby.

* Note: One such story was written by Amy Pyle, Times education writer, who wrote an assessment of the Los Angeles Unified School District's lack of textbooks in most academic subjects and the dismal array of out-of-date textbooks. (See articles dated July 28, 1997, and Feb. 8, 1998.)

How the Polls Were Conducted


The Times Poll contacted 1,091 teachers in California by telephone November 13-16, 1997. A random sample of teachers was proportionally drawn from the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) membership lists. Together, the two unions represent approximately 95% of California public school teachers. The margin of sampling error for all teachers is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher.

Adults, Parents & Children:

The Times Poll contacted 2,804 adults, including 1,281 parents of children between the ages of 5 and 17 living at home, by telephone Nov. 18 through Dec. 12, 1997. Five hundred forty-five (545) children between the ages of 12 and 17 were also interviewed. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for all adults is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher.

To look at results of parents by their racial and ethnic group, the Times oversampled black parents and hired Interviewing Services of America to interview Asian parents in their own language (Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese). Asian respondents were chosen from a listed Asian surname sample. Interviews with other respondents were conducted in English and Spanish.

Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.