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Californians support historic changes in school funding, curriculum

In a broad consensus across racial, political and economic lines, most Californians support two historic changes in how academic subjects are taught and state dollars are allocated to schools, according to a statewide survey released Wednesday.

More than two-thirds of Californians surveyed support new national learning standards known as Common Core, which are currently being rolled out to better prepare students for college and careers with a deeper focus on critical thinking over rote memorization. California’s support is in marked contrast to growing resistance to the standards in New York, Indiana, Oklahoma and several other states.

And 70% of Californians back a new education finance system that gives more money to school districts for students who are low-income, learning English or in foster care. The new funding system is supported across all income levels and by 77% of Democrats, 65% of independents and 60% of Republicans, according to the survey by the Public Policy Institute of California.

“Generally, Californians are very supportive of these historic and dramatic changes,” said Mark Baldassare, the institute’s president. “There is so much pent up dissatisfaction with the status quo that they’re hoping these changes will maybe lead to a breakthrough.”

Reflecting wide agreement about the value of early childhood education, nearly three-fourths of those surveyed backed state funding for voluntary preschool for all 4-year-olds. Strong majorities across political parties, regions and demographic groups said preschool was important to a child’s later academic success.

And while 52% of Californians gave A's and Bs to their local schools, 81% said the quality of education statewide remained a problem. Only 35% gave high marks to schools for preparing students for both college and a career.

About half of those surveyed and 62% of public school parents said more school funding was needed, even after voters approved a temporary tax hike in 2012 to raise $6 billion annually for education.

In other findings, 56% of likely voters generally approved of Gov. Jerry Brown. But only one-third approved of his handling of the public school system. The Legislature’s job rating was just 29%.

The survey of 1,702 California adult residents was conducted between April 8 and April 15. The margin of error was 3.8%.

California’s broad support for new national standards crossed all income levels, although 73% of those earning less than $40,000 annually backed them compared with 68% of those earning more than $80,000. In other states, however, they have faced opposition from such critics as teacher unions and tea party conservatives. In Indiana, for instance, Gov. Mike Pence signed legislation last month that reversed the state’s adoption of the Common Core standards and instructed that they be rewritten locally. 

Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Assn., said Californians were more supportive of the standards than elsewhere because the state has been more “thoughtful and deliberative”  in rolling them out. Among other things, he said, the state is taking several years to develop and refine student tests linked to the new standards and will not use the results to evaluate school and staff performance until 2017-18.

In addition, state lawmakers have approved $1.25 billion for teacher training, computers and other needed items to properly implement Common Core.

“All of this differentiates California from every other state,” Vogel said. “We are doing it the right way.”

He said 70% of his union members surveyed support Common Core but with “reservations.” Teachers are excited by the mandate to teach fewer standards at a deeper level rather than “drill and kill” test prep. But they want to be involved in developing the curriculum rather than having it imposed by outside consultants or district officials, he said.

The survey found stronger support for the standards among Asian Americans (88%), Latinos (77%) and African Americans (71%) than whites (57%). Baldassare said he was unclear on the reason.

About two-thirds of those surveyed said they were at least somewhat confident that the standards will help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

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teresa.watanabe@latimes.com
Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe

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