California Teachers Rate the Public Schools

Times Poll Director

Teachers are pretty sanguine about the overall quality of education in public schools both in the nation and in California today. More than three out of five teachers each rate the nation's and California public schools as excellent or good. However, more than a third rate California's public schools either fair or poor (compared to 26% for the nation's schools).

The emergency-credentialed teachers are not as satisfied with the schools as their credentialed counterparts are -- just about half (52%) of the state's emergency-credentialed teachers say the schools are good, while almost half (45%) say fair or poor, compared to more than three out of five (62%) credentialed teachers rating the schools good, 35% fair or poor.

And many teachers -- credentialed or not -- give credit to themselves as to why the conditions in the schools are good. Those teachers in the field more than 16 years give themselves a lot of credit (60%); however, those teaching between one and five years give themselves some credit (47%), while also crediting school administrators (13%) and the state government (12%).

Blame, teachers feel, is more evenly distributed among state government (23%), parents (20%) and school administrators (11%). Teachers do not blame themselves.

Quality of Education

Although teachers are saying schools have gotten better and their local public schools are good, there is still a small minority that are pessimistic about public school education. Only a plurality of teachers (45%) say the overall quality of public school education has gotten better over the last ten years, with a quarter saying worse and a quarter saying it has remained the same.

High school teachers are less satisfied with the school system -- 35% say schools have gotten better, but 33% say worse and 28% the same, compared to 52% of elementary school teachers who say quality of public school education has gotten better, 20% worse and 21% say it has remained the same. Middle school teachers are very similar to overall teacher results.

When rating their own local public schools, 33% say excellent and 47% say good, only 4% say poor.

The most important problem facing public schools in their district today is budget cuts (23%), followed by classrooms being too large (16%), parents not involved in homework (15%) and children not fluent in English (11%). Budget cuts is mentioned by all groups as the most important problem (newer teachers -- those teaching 5 years or less; more experienced teachers -- those teaching more than 15 years; and teachers from all levels -- elementary, middle and high school). Surprisingly, crime does not come up very high on the teachers' list of problems (while it is high on the students' list when they were surveyed in a separate Times poll -- crime is the only problem that is in double digits among students, while no other problem comes close.)

Spending Money

Interestingly, teachers are virtually split as to whether schools have enough money but that it should be put to better use, or that schools need more money to improve the quality of the state's school system. The newer teachers think the money could be spent more wisely (51%), while almost half of the more experienced teachers think the schools need more money. Middle and high school teachers think the schools need more money, while elementary school teachers are slightly more inclined to think the opposite.

Aspects of the Public School System

The poll asked the teachers to rate six aspects of the state's public school system (teacher quality, condition of facilities, preparing students for jobs for the next century, curriculum offered, math programs offered and whether equipment and technology are up-to-date). They were to rate each one from above average to below average.

Not surprisingly, they gave themselves high marks on teacher quality -- 70% of the teachers gave the quality of teachers an above average score, 26% said average and just 1% said below average. Although the newer teachers gave teachers a high rating on the quality attribute, their scores were significantly lower than the more experienced teachers (59% vs. 68% for those teaching 6-15 years and 74% for those teaching more than 15 years).

Next, about half (48%) of those surveyed felt the curriculum offered is above average, 42% average and about one in ten (9%) think below average. Half of the credentialed teachers say the curriculum offered is above average, 40% average, 9% below average. The emergency-credentialed teachers are tougher in their assessment of the curriculum -- 49% say the curriculum is just average. Thirty-eight percent say it is above average, while 12% say it is below average.

The other four aspects have not fared as well:

Math programs offered to the students get a passing grade -- 38% say above average, 38% say average and 18% say below average.

Technology and equipment available to the students -- 37% say below average, about 30% each say above average or average.

Student job preparation for the next century -- about half say it is average, while a quarter each say above and below average.

And the grade teachers gave for the condition of school buildings and classrooms is a failing one. Almost 3 out of 5 say the conditions are below average, a third say the conditions are average and just 8% say above average.

Social Promotion

One of the big issues that hasn't been addressed so far in the school districts is whether or not to hold back students because they are not learning on their grade level (i.e., reading and math levels). In some of the school districts it is virtually impossible to hold back students. And this predicament is reflected in the findings. More than three-quarters of the teachers surveyed agree that too many students get passed on to the next grade when they should have been held back. A sizable plurality of teachers (34%) said that more than 15% of their current students should have been held back because they haven't mastered the previous grade's curriculum. Remarkably, only 16% of the teachers said no one should have been held back. A quarter (24%) think 1%-5% of the students should have been held back, 15% say 6%-10% of their students shouldn't have been promoted, while 5% say 11%-15% were not ready to move on. Yet, 42% of the teachers said they could not hold back any of their students and those that can, a third would find it very difficult to do so. And we wonder why we are graduating students who cannot find jobs, do well in college or cope with the pressures in society.

Only 5% of the teachers said that none of their students read on grade level while more than half of the teachers (54%) told us that more than 50% of their students read on grade level. Not stalwart numbers. Perhaps this goes with social promotion.

The reason why some students do better than others is because of parent involvement (43%) and stability at home (24%), some teachers muse. They don't believe it's because of natural ability or even their teaching, but the discipline and guidance in the home. Interestingly, in a separate Times survey of students, students believe it's because some of their classmates work harder and not because of a more stable home environment.

Teacher Qualifications

Tenure is a controversial issue in some circles, but not surprisingly, favored by most teachers, 69%. Yet, a quarter are not in favor of this benefit, including 30% of emergency-credentialed teachers. The newer teachers (1-5 years) are more opposed to it (31%) than the more experienced teacher (27% for those teaching 6-15 years and 21% for those teaching more than 15 years).

Are teachers more qualified today than they were ten years ago or not? Well, teachers are divided on this issue -- 30% say more qualified, 28% less qualified and 38% say as qualified. Emergency-credentialed teachers are more likely to say more qualified (41%) than their credentialed cohorts (27%). Conversely, credentialed teachers are more inclined to say teachers are less qualified (30%) than emergency-permit teachers (18%). Also newer teachers (two-thirds of whom have emergency-credentials) say more qualified, while the more experienced teachers believe that people going into the profession today are less qualified.

When asked why they believe these teachers are less qualified, the biggest single mention is that these teachers are emergency credentialed (40%), followed by no college training (27%) and inadequate credentialing (24%).

How would you attract the best qualified people to want to become teachers. Most teachers answered more money (60%). This has been the mantra of teachers and their unions for years. If college graduates can go out into the market place and start earning $40,000-$50,000 with more opportunities to advance why would they want to go into teaching. More incentives must be offered to entice the best qualified people to go into the profession. Teaching at one time was considered a noble profession -- the perception of "teacher" and the teaching profession has to be made more respectable again.

One way of doing that is through peer review. Tenure, unfortunately, allows mediocre and bad teachers to remain in the system. Teachers don't have an incentive to do better. Why should they when they have permanent job security. As long as teachers don't do anything criminally wrong, or defraud the system, they are allowed to stay in teaching. With peer review, schools might get better qualified teachers. More than a majority of teachers (53%) are in favor of peer review, while a quarter haven't heard about it, and 17% are not in favor of it.

Most teachers (72%) believe the quality of education the students are getting from emergency-credentialed teachers is worse than what is provided by fully credentialed teachers, while only 19% believe it is equal and just 2% say better. Even emergency-credentialed teachers are split as to whether they are worse than full teachers or equal to them (44% each). Only 4% of the emergency teachers think they are better qualified.

Almost two-thirds of the teachers, 65%, think the overall quality of their teacher training was either excellent or above average, 26% say average, just 9% say below average.

Standardized Testing/School Vouchers/Full Inclusion

Almost two-thirds (65%) of those surveyed approve of standardized testing as a requirement for students to advance to the next grade or graduate from high school. The newer teachers are divided over this issue (48%-47%), while the more experienced teachers are all for it (65%-29% for those teaching 6-15 years; 72%-23% for those teaching more than 15 years). But the most teachers also realize (69%) that minority students would be at a disadvantage with these kinds of tests.

Not surprisingly, 73% of teachers are opposed to school vouchers, including 62% who strongly oppose the program. (In a separate Times poll of California parents, 61% favor vouchers.)

More than 3 out of five of those surveyed do not want full inclusion, which places students with learning or behavioral disabilities in classrooms with students without any disabilities. The newer teachers are divided over this issue (47%-49%), while the more experienced teachers are overwhelmingly opposed to it (67%).

Bilingual Education

Those surveyed are divided over their impression of bilingual education (45% favor, 49% unfavorable). There is no clear consensus over this issue -- and they are just as confused as Californians in general are. Fully credentialed teachers have an unfavorable impression of bilingual education, while emergency-credentialed teachers have a favorable impression. Newer teachers (1-5 years) and those who have been teaching 6-15 years are in favor of these programs, while the more experienced teachers -- those who have taught more than 15 years -- have a negative view.

Yet, when read a definition of what bilingual education is, 57% are in favor of these programs, while 38% are opposed to it. Those who have taught more than 15 years now are divided over it, while the other teachers are more strongly for it. And the fully-credentialed teacher is now in favor of bilingual education.

The concept of "English immersion" is more accepted than bilingual education. Without explaining what English immersions is, 50% of the teachers have a favorable opinion of this program, 23% have an unfavorable view. All demographic groups have a positive opinion. Then, when the definition of English immersion was read to them, a whopping 72% of teachers were in favor of it (compared to 57% in favor of bilingual education).

The leading gubernatorial candidates running for office in the June primary are saying that bilingual education in the California school system has failed and there needs to be a better way of educating non-English speaking children. Proposition 227, the Unz initiative on limiting bilingual education, at this point in the campaign is winning. It is winning in most demographic groups, including Latinos. There is no clear-cut answer to this complicated issue. Although these candidates, education leaders, Latino community leaders, and others have come out in opposition to Proposition 227, they also believe bilingual education should be taught in a shorter time frame than is now currently practiced in schools. To be successful living in California, parents know that speaking English is the key. And all parents want the same thing for their children and that is for them to succeed and to receive a good education.

When asked which is the more effective way of teaching bilingual education, half (51%) believe English immersion is the more effective way of teaching children English, while 34% say bilingual education is the more effective way. Emergency-credentialed teachers are split as to which way is more effective, while the credentialed teachers think English immersion is the way to go. More experienced teachers believe English immersion is thought to be the more effective tool to teach children English.

More teachers believe that teaching non-English speaking students has had a positive impact on the quality of education for English speaking students (30%) while 40% say no impact, and 24% believe it has had a negative impact.

Treatment of Racial Groups

Three out of five teachers say all students from different racial and ethnic groups are treated equally in the public school system. A fifth think whites get preferential treatment. Of those who say one group is treated better than the others (32%), about a fifth each say blacks and Latinos are treated worse and a third say no group is treated worse.

Other Issues

Virtually all teachers (88%) believe children should not be given calculators in math class. This belief crosses all groups.

And most teachers believe that kids at some time cheat on tests and assignments (kids say the same thing). They don't believe no one cheats. Six percent think all students cheat, 22% feel most do, half think some do and 20% say a few cheat.

And most teachers disagree (68%) that private school education is better than public school education.

Safety on Campus

Virtually all teachers (92%) feel safe on their school campus (including 70% very safe and 22% somewhat safe). Yet they also say that some students are carrying weapons on campus -- 3% say students frequently carry a knife or gun to school, 11% say they do it occasionally, 50% say rarely. A startling result is that only 36% of all teachers say no one brings a weapon to school.

Although most feel safe at school, 5% say they have been attacked by a student on their school campus, 11% say they have been physically threatened and 2% say they have been both physically threatened and attacked. 82% say nothing has happened to them on campus.

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.

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