In order to shed some light in this area, The Times Poll surveyed 1091 California public school teachers November 13-16, 1997. Between November 18th and December 12, 1997, the Times Poll interviewed 2,804 California adults, including 1,281 parents in addition to 545 of their 12 to 17 year old children. "Parents" were defined, for the purposes of this survey, as adults having at least half custody of at least one child between the ages of 5 and 17 who was currently in school. In many cases, similar or identical questions were asked of respondents in each of the surveys, allowing analysis of questions across the three groups and their sub-populations.
Parents give the public school system low marks overall, but teachers and children grade it higher.
There was a wide divergence in viewpoints between teachers and parents of school-age children on the quality of the public school system. Parents regarded the national and state level school system quite negatively and were split over the quality of their local schools, while teachers gave fairly enthusiastic ratings to all levels of the system.
When asked to rate the nation's public schools, only a quarter of the parents in the survey responded "excellent" or "good." Nearly the same proportion (28%) gave one of these two highest ratings to California's public schools. In stark contrast, a majority of public school teachers in the survey gave a strong thumbs up to the public schools -- 64% gave one of these two highest ratings to the nation's schools, and 61% rated California's schools "excellent" or "good."
Both groups tended to view their own familiar local public schools with much higher regard than either the more abstract state or national system. Parents were split 49% to 48% over whether to rate their local public schools excellent/good or fair/poor, including only 9% who gave an "excellent" rating. One third of teachers in the survey, on the other hand, gave the highest rating to the school system they teach in every day. An impressive four out of five teachers gave their local schools one of the two highest ratings, while 19% rated them "fair" or "poor."
When children between ages of 12 and 17 were asked to rate the education they've received, they generally were in agreement with their teachers that it has been pretty good. Eighty-one percent of the younger middle-school children gave their education one of the two highest ratings, and 72% of high-school age children agreed. Overall, 76% of the 12- to 17-year-olds in the survey gave one of the two highest ratings to their education, and 24% rated their education as "fair" or "poor."
Teachers are given the most credit for what is good about California's schools; state government is blamed for its flaws. Parents give themselves credit, but teachers disagree.
Parents and teachers who rated California's schools as "excellent" or "good" tended to give credit for its positive condition to the teachers. A 58% majority of teachers and a 37% plurality of parents who rated schools excellent or good named teachers when asked to choose from a selection of possible school benefactors.
Similar proportions of teachers and parents gave credit to the state government or school administrators although these categories were among parents' top mentions. State government was mentioned by 13% of parents and 8% of teachers while school administrators received credit from 11% of parents and 7% of teachers.
Interestingly, more than one out of five parents felt that they -- the parents -- should be given credit for the good quality of the state's schools. Teachers don't agree -- only 5% thought parents were the main contributors to the quality of the state's school system.
When it came to assigning blame for the low quality of California's schools, the survey found that 21% of parents and nearly the same proportion (23%) of teachers who rated California's schools "fair" or "poor" named the state government as the culprit. Another 6% of teachers and 8% of parents blamed Wilson for the school system's woes. School administrators were fingered for blame by 11% of teachers and even more (16%) parents. Twelve percent of each group said there was not one scapegoat, that blame could be laid at everyone's door. One in five teachers said that the parents of children who attend the state's public schools could do more to improve the situation, and 14% of the parents themselves agreed. Virtually no one (5% of parents and 2% of teachers) blamed the teachers.
Overcrowding, budget cuts are considered most important problem facing local schools by parents and teachers. Children say it is violence and drugs.
In this series of questions, children were asked what they felt was the most important problem facing their own school, teachers were asked about the problems facing the school in which they teach, and parents were asked about the problems facing their local public schools. Two answers were allowed.
When asked to name the most important problems facing their local public schools, parents and teachers named similar concerns. Twenty-two percent of parents mentioned overcrowded classrooms, while 18% cited a more general concern over budget cuts. Similarly, nearly one out of every four teachers interviewed named budget cuts as the most important problem. Overcrowded classrooms was another top concern among teachers, mentioned by 16%, while 11% said that children who are not fluent in English pose the biggest problem in their local school.
When single mention answers are combined into broader categories, the difference in opinion between parents and teachers becomes apparent. More than a third (35%) of teachers mentioned some type of administrative problem (includes their top single pick: "budget cuts") as one of the most important problems and 31% of teachers cited parental non-involvement in school and homework. Parental focus, not surprisingly, was on the education of their children, with nearly a third (31%) mentioning classroom concerns such as overcrowding, lack of instruction in the basics and the problems resulting from a diversity of cultures and languages in the classroom.
Teenagers were less concerned with the overcrowding or budget issues that worry the adults than with everyday problems that may confront them -- violence and drugs in their schools. Twenty percent of middle-schoolers mentioned violence and 12% mentioned drugs, only 6% said gangs, while 16% said there were no problems on their campus. Seventeen percent of the older high-school students interviewed named drugs as the top problem, (possibly having pinpointed one of the main causes of campus violence,) 10% said gangs, 9% cited violence, 9% mentioned large class size. Ten percent of all high school students said there are no problems on their campus.
It is interesting to note that while nearly one of every three students (32%) point to gangs, drugs or violence on campus as the biggest problems, nine out of ten said they felt safe on campus, including half who said they felt "very safe." This was true for boys and girls, and among all ages and ethnic groups, and even among those students who named violence, gangs, or drugs as the most important problem on campus.