Skip to content
California's Public School Education Gets Lukewarm Review from California Parents
Candidates running for governor of California have been travelling up and down the state heralding their achievements and promoting their plans to improve California's public school education. Findings in a recent Los Angeles Times poll suggest why political candidates are putting so much emphasis on education in 1998. According to the poll, not only is education at the forefront of attention for many Californians, but non-parents and parents alike give schools and teachers only mediocre ratings and demonstrate a wide range of concerns about the school system and other education-related issues.
Education is a top concern.
In a Times poll conducted by telephone November 18 through December 12, 1997, just months after California students began the 1997-98 school year, 23% of Californians called education the most important problem facing California (in an open-ended question where no response options were provided). This was second only to crime (including gangs, drugs, and violence), mentioned by 37% of Californians. The concern about education is far-reaching and not just limited to self-interested Californians with children in the educational system. High proportions of parents of school-age children, parents of older or younger children and non-parents named education as the most important problem facing the state.
When Californians were asked what they consider the most important problem facing public schools specifically, the highest proportion said a lack of funds or budget cuts (19%). Nineteen percent also mentioned some form of crime, including gangs, drugs, violence, and crime in general. These issues were followed closely by concern about overcrowded classrooms and issues related to teacher performance and training (17% for each). Another 12% mentioned an issue related to student preparedness and discipline and 10% named a concern related to parental involvement and the teaching of proper values.
Nearly one-third (30%) of Latino parents of school age children mentioned large class sizes as the most important problem in California public schools (throughout this analysis "parents" will refer to parents of school-age children unless otherwise stated). High proportions of white parents also gave this response (22%, compared to 13% of African American and 10% of Asian parents). Latino and Asian parents were more likely to show greater concern about crime, with 30% of Latino and 33% of Asian parents calling this their top concern, compared to 11% of white and 20% of African American parents. Concern about budget cuts was higher among white and African American parents. Last, Asian parents were far less likely to cite teacher performance or training as the most important problem in California schools, with just 4% of Asian parents giving this response, compared to 17% of white, 23% of Latino and 27% of African American parents.
A plurality of residents believe the quality of public education in California has gotten worse and that private schools provide a better education.
By nearly 2 to 1, more Californians believe education has gotten worse than gotten better (43% to 22%). One quarter of Californians think it has remained the same and the remaining ten percent were uncertain.
The proportion believing the quality of education has gotten worse was somewhat higher among non-parents and parents of children 18 years of age or older. White and African American parents were more likely to think the quality of education in California has gotten worse (46% and 55% respectively) than Latinos (34%) and Asian parents (22%). The belief that education in California has gotten worse also increased with rising income and was higher among parents with children in private school than those with children in public school (51% to 38%).
Further indicating the poor perception of public school education in the state, the vast majority of Californians agreed that children who attend private schools generally get a better education than children who attend public schools. Forty-five percent strongly agreed with this statement and another 22% somewhat agreed, for a total of 67% in agreement. Just 27% disagreed. Nearly two-thirds or more of each parent subgroup agreed with this statement as well. Again, non-parents, parents of children 18 years of age or older, and more affluent residents were slightly more likely to think children who attend private school get a better education. Unsurprisingly, private school parents were far more likely to agree that children who attend private schools generally get a better education than those parents with children in public school. Seventy percent of private school parents strongly agreed with this statement, compared to 36% of public school parents. Overall, 80% of private school parents agreed, compared to 60% of public school parents.
More than two-thirds of respondents give California's public schools only a fair or poor rating. Local schools fare better.
When Californians were asked to rate the quality of education in California's public schools, just three percent called it excellent and 22% called it good. Forty-four percent were only willing to call the quality of education in the public schools fair and another 27% called it poor (for a total of 71% calling California's public schools fair or poor). This rating did not differ much from Californians' perception of schools nationwide. Just 25% called the quality of education in public schools in the nation excellent or good and 67% called it fair or poor.
California schools received lukewarm to poor ratings with non-parents and parents of children of various ages. Parents with children in private school were more likely than those with children in public school to give California schools a poor rating (37% to 24%).
Asian parents were slightly more positive about California schools, with 44% giving them an excellent or good rating, compared to 36% of Latinos, 20% of whites, and 15% for African Americans. Only 11% of Asian parents gave California public schools a poor rating, while 17% of Latino parents, 30% of white parents, and 43% of African American parents did so.
While the perception of California schools was generally weak, Californians gave higher ratings for the quality of education at their local public schools. Nearly half (43%) of Californians called their local public schools excellent (8%) or good (35%). While one-third think their local public schools are just fair, only 18% believe they are poor.
Parents of school-age children (49%) and parents of children under five (52%) are more likely to give their local public schools an excellent or good rating than non-parents (33%) and parents with children 18 years of age or older (37%). With this result as one indicator, there is a slight trend for parents of school-age children and younger children to have a slightly more positive opinion of public education in California than non-parents and parents of older children. Parents of school-age children and those with children approaching school-age may have more information or involvement in schools and, therefore, a slightly better impression. Another explanation may be that parents who are sending their children to public school are less willing to accept that they are sending their children to inadequate schools -- which creates cognitive dissonance.
Furthermore, while 52% of public school parents called local public schools excellent or good, just 33% of private school parents did so. Private school parents were more likely to call public schools fair (36%) or poor (26%).
African American parents had a far more negative view of local public schools than Latino, white and Asian parents. While approximately half of Asian, Latino and white parents gave local public schools excellent or good ratings, just 29% of African Americans did so. Seventy percent of African Americans gave their local schools a fair or poor rating -- including 32% saying poor -- compared with 38% of Asian parents, 50% of Latino parents and 47% of white parents.
Residents were also asked who they blamed or credited for the current condition of education in California. Among those who gave the schools good ratings, the highest proportion gave credit to teachers (38%). Seventeen percent of Californians who had a good impression of California's public schools gave credit to parents, 12% to administrators and 12% to state government (and another four percent to Governor Wilson).
Parents of school-age children were even more likely than respondents overall to give themselves -- parents -- credit for the condition of public schools, with 21% giving this response. Households where there is a "stay-at-home mom" were also more likely to give credit to parents than households where both parents work (37% to 10%). In households where both parents work, respondents were more likely to give credit to teachers (39% to 19%). Respondents in families with a stay-at-home mom may believe that having a parent available contributes to a child's academic success, while parents who work give credit to the teachers that guide their children in their absence.
Among those who gave schools a fair or poor rating, blame is widely distributed. Twenty-one percent blamed state government, 16% blamed parents, 15% administrators, 10% the federal government, and 9% Governor Wilson. Just four percent placed the blame on teachers.
Among African American parents who called California's public schools fair or poor, higher proportions specifically blamed Governor Wilson for the condition of the schools (21%, versus 5% among white parents, 10% among Latino parents, and 5% among Asian parents). State government was given the blame by the highest proportion of white parents (24%), African American parents (26%) and Asian parents (22%). However, just 13% of Latino parents placed the blame on state government. Latino parents were more likely to blame parents for the condition of California public schools (at 22%) than were whites (12%), Asians (6%) and African American parents (6%).
More affluent residents (those with annual household income of $60,000 or higher) were somewhat more likely to give credit to administrators (26%) than other income groups and more likely to place the blame on parents (21%). Respondents in stay-at-home mom households were more likely to place the blame on parents -- potentially suggesting that a lack of parent involvement undermines school performance.
Teachers get lukewarm ratings overall.
Despite not being held accountable for the poor condition of California schools, teachers generally get only average ratings from parents and non-parents. Fifty-five percent of respondents view California public school teachers as just "average." Another 13% gave them a below average or poor rating. Just 27% said teachers in the state are above average and just five percent rated them as excellent.
Asian parents continue to show greater support for teachers and public school education in California. Forty-six percent of Asian parents rated teachers as excellent or above average. Just 22% of Latino, 16% of African American, and 29% of white parents did so. African American parents were the most likely to call teachers below average or poor, with 20% giving this response.
Not only did teachers receive mediocre reviews, but just one-quarter (26%) of Californians believed teachers are better qualified today than they were ten years ago. Thirty-five percent believed they are as qualified and 28% believe teachers are less qualified. Asian (37%) and Latino (36%) parents were more likely than African American (21%) and white (22%) parents to think teachers are better qualified today. African Americans were the most likely to believe teachers are less qualified, with 42% giving this response compared to 30% of white parents, 28% of Latino parents, and 19% of Asian parents.
When respondents who said teachers are less qualified today were asked why, the highest proportion gave a reason related to teacher training or quality of those choosing the teaching profession: 23% said students coming out of college who become teachers are of poor quality; 14% said too many emergency credentials are issued; 13% said inadequate credential programs are to blame; and 10% said the best people are not going into teaching. Another 20% of respondents said they believe teachers not caring about their work stands behind the declining quality of teachers.
Non-parents were more likely than other respondents to believe that low pay stands behind the reduced quality of teachers (with 19% giving this response, compared with between 5% and 9% of parent subgroups). Parents of children 5 to 11 years of age were more likely to mention emergency credentials as the main problem (21% versus 14% for the sample as a whole). A recently passed law required class sizes to be cut in kindergarten through third grade in California public schools. As a result, many teachers had to be quickly certified to fill new classrooms. The new class-size law may, therefore, stand behind the view by parents of younger children that emergency credentials have reduced the quality of teachers.
White parents were more likely to cite emergency credentials (26%) and the poor quality of college students choosing to go into teaching (27%) as contributing to less qualified teachers. Higher proportions of African Americans parents considered apathy to be the main contributor (28%).
Looking at other subgroups, more affluent residents placed more blame on emergency credentials and inadequate college training while less affluent residents were more likely to cite teacher apathy as the underlying cause of poor teacher performance.
Californians may have only modestly favorable opinions of teachers overall, but parents generally believe teachers pay enough attention to their kids and place appropriate standards on their children. Parents of school-age children were asked if they believe that their child receives enough personal attention from his or her teachers. Sixty-three percent said their child receives enough attention. Thirty-four percent said their child does not. Parents of an elementary school age child were the most satisfied with the amount of personal attention their child receives. Seventy-four percent of these parents said their child receives enough personal attention. Just 53% of middle and 46% of high school students gave this response. Parents of private school children were also more satisfied with the amount of attention their child receives than parents of a public school child (83% to 60%).
African American parents were more likely to think their child does not get enough personal attention from teachers, with 53% giving this response, compared to 31% of white parents, 33% of Latino parents, and 34% of Asian parents.
Parents also give good ratings to the academic standards placed on their children. Most parents believe that the academic standards placed on their kids are just right (61%). Just 8% think standards are too difficult, 22% think standards are somewhat too easy and 8% think standards are much too easy. More than two-thirds of parents also believe their kids are assigned the right amount of homework (68%) -- even though 70% said their kids work less than an hour per day on schoolwork. Nine percent think their child is assigned too much homework and 22% believe their child is assigned too little.
White and Asian parents were somewhat more likely to think the standards placed on their children are too easy (33% and 31% respectively) than African American or Latino parents (23% and 25% respectively).
Dissatisfaction with academic standards increased with the age of the parent's child. Parents of a high school student were more likely to think that standards are too easy, with 37% giving this response, compared to 29% for middle school and 27% for elementary school parents. However, Asian parents of elementary/middle and high school children were equally as likely to think standards are too easy.
Private school parents were also more likely to be satisfied with the standards placed on their children, with 73% saying they are at the right level while just 59% of public school parents felt this way. Public school parents were twice as likely to think standards are too easy (32% to 15%).
Most students spend an hour or less on homework and most parents think that amount of time is adequate.
Seven out of 10 parents surveyed said their child spends one hour or less on homework each school day -- 26% saying one half hour or less and 44% saying about an hour. Just 18% reported that their child spends about 2 hours on homework each day and 9% said their child spends more than 2 hours on schoolwork.
Asian parents were the most likely to report that their child spends 2 hours or more on homework each day, with 45% giving this response compared to 34% of African American parents, 27% of white parents and 18% of Latino parents. Latino parents -- who were more likely to have younger children -- were more likely to say that their child spends 30 minutes or less on homework each day (36%) or an hour or less (77%) on homework than other racial parent groups. Unsurprisingly, the time spent on homework decreases with younger children. Yet, 39% of Asian parents said their elementary school child spends two hours or more on homework each night -- compared to 13% of Latino, 18% of white, and 26% of African American parents of children in this younger age group.
Parents also believe that this amount of homework is sufficient. Just 22% believe their child is assigned too little homework. The vast majority, 68%, think their child is assigned the right amount of homework. A small 9% think too much homework is assigned. African American (32%) and Asian (33%) parents were more likely to think that their child is assigned too little homework than Latino (18%) and white (19%) parents.
Teachers' unions are not viewed as too influential. Californians are nearly divided in their view of tenure.
Some people believe that many of the problems in California's public schools are made worse by teachers' unions who stand in the way of positive change. However the survey results suggest that only a small proportion of Californians are concerned about the power of teachers' unions. Just 28% of Californians believed teachers' unions have too much influence over the public school system in California. Eighteen percent actually thought they have too little influence and 30% said teachers' unions have the right amount of influence (nearly one quarter -- 23% -- were uncertain). More affluent residents and parents with children in private school were more likely than lower income and parents with children in public school to believe that teachers' unions have too much influence. Furthermore, African American parents were more likely to think unions do not have enough influence, with 37% giving this response. Twenty-six percent of Latino parents felt this way, while just 12% of both white and Asian parents thought teachers' unions have too little influence. White and Asian parents were more likely to think they have too much influence (34% and 32% respectively).
Teachers' unions have long fought for the continuation of teacher tenure. Many parents argue that tenure makes it nearly impossible to dismiss inadequate teachers. Others believe tenure is necessary so that teachers have the freedom to teach what they believe is important without risking losing their jobs for expressing a particular point of view. When Californians were asked their opinion of tenure, without being given any information about it, one quarter (26%) were uncertain how they felt about the practice. Forty-two percent favored it and 32% opposed it. However, once they were read a description of tenure, opposition rose to 52% while support remained unchanged. There was little variation among parent and non-parent groups. Affluent residents and white parents were more opposed to tenure than less affluent residents and other ethnic/racial groups.
Schools get weak ratings for curriculum, facilities, and preparing students for the next century.
As with teachers, school facilities get only "average" ratings, with just 16% giving school facilities, such as school buildings and classrooms, an excellent or above average rating. Forty percent gave facilities just an average rating. However, over one-third gave facilities a below average (24%) or poor (16%) rating.
The curriculum in schools receives similar ratings: 17% calling it excellent or above average, 51% calling it average, 18% saying it is below average and nine percent rating it as poor. Non-parents were more likely to believe the curriculum is below average or poor (30%).
When Californians were asked to consider how schools are doing preparing students for jobs in the 21st century, ratings were again fair to poor. Just four percent gave schools an excellent rating in this area and only 10% gave an above average rating. Thirty-five percent said schools are doing only an average job. And a high 44% said the job schools are doing in preparing students for jobs in the next century is below average or poor.
In all three of these areas, Asian parents were more likely than other parents to give schools an excellent or above average rating. Thirty-one percent of Asian parents gave facilities an excellent or above average rating, 38% gave this rating to the curriculum and 35% for preparing students for the next century. White and African American parents were the most likely to give schools a negative review in these areas.
Despite overall high levels of concern about the quality of education, concern about specific issues is moderate to low.
Parents of school-age children were asked to rate how serious they consider a number of problems in their child's school. The only issue to be called a very or somewhat serious problem by more than 50% of parents was "overcrowded classrooms" (named by 53%). However, 46% said overcrowded classrooms are not too serious of a problem or not a serious problem at all. Other results for issues tested included:
"Not enough emphasis on the basics" was called a very or somewhat serious problem by 40% of these parents. Fifty-nine percent of parents of school-age children did not consider this to be too serious of a problem or called it not serious at all.
"Disruptive students" was named by 40% as well. However, 58% said they did not consider this problem to be too serious or serious at all.
"Drug use in school" was named by 37%. Fifty-eight percent did not consider this issue too serious or serious at all in their child's school.
"Too many kids who do not speak English fluently" was named by 37%. Fifty-nine percent of parents of school-age children did not find this issue too serious or serious at all.
"Textbooks being out of date" was named by 36%. Sixty percent did not consider this problem too serious or serious at all.
And "out of date equipment and technology" was called very or somewhat serious by 35% of parents of school-age children. Sixty-two percent did not find this problem to be too serious or serious at all.
Concern about all of these issues increased with the school level of the child. Parents of a high school child were more concerned about each issue than were parents of an elementary school child. More affluent parents and parents of private school children were less concerned about each issue than less affluent parents and parents of public school children. Asian parents were more likely than other parents to consider disruptive students (57%), drug use in school (56%), and no emphasis on the basics (63%) serious problems. African American and Asian parents were more likely than white and Latino parents to think out of date textbooks and technology and equipment, overcrowded classrooms, and too many kids not speaking fluent English are serious problems.
Californians don't necessarily believe that more money is the answer, but would pay higher taxes for schools.
The debate about public school education has often centered on funding and the need to increase spending per student. Yet, the majority of respondents believe we can improve the quality of California's public schools by spending the money that goes to schools more wisely (58%) rather than just spending more money (35%).
Furthermore, when given a choice, nearly two-thirds (63%) of Californians said that increasing academic standards is the best way to improve public schools, not increasing spending. Just 20% believe that schools would be better served with more funding rather than higher standards.
Despite the belief that money given to schools should be spent more wisely and that higher academic standards are a better way to improve our schools than giving them more money, 60% of respondents said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to increase school funding (the question did not specify how large the tax increase would be). Just 35% said they would not be willing.
Unsurprisingly, non-parents and parents with children 18 years of age or older were slightly less willing to pay additional taxes (38% and 40% respectively). Parents with children under five years of age -- whose children will soon be in school -- were the most willing to pay increased taxes, at 68%. Half of parents with children in private school were willing to pay higher taxes for public schools -- even though they do not reap the benefit of their tax dollars. Nearly two-thirds of parents with children in public schools were willing to pay increased taxes (63%). Asian parents were the least willing of the four ethnic/racial groups to pay additional taxes, with 51% saying they would do so compared to 62% of white, 70% of African American and 64% of Latino parents.
Parents believe schools should be teaching more than just the three Rs.
There has been a lot of discussion in California public schools about the need to teach more than just basic academic subjects. Respondents were asked what they thought the primary purpose of education should be -- beyond the basics -- and given a list of options. Among them, the highest proportion chose "teaching children to work hard and have discipline" (chosen by 28%). This was followed closely by teaching students to "have personal responsibility", with 24% of respondents giving this answer. Eleven percent said the primary purpose of public schools should be to teach self-esteem, 10% said to teach tolerance and acceptance, 17% said "to work in teams and solve problems" and 30% volunteered that all these areas should be the primary purpose of education.
When it comes to teaching math, however, parents and non-parents alike want kids taught the old-fashioned way. An overwhelming 91% of Californians said that students at a young age should be taught the fundamentals of math in school, such as adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, without the aid of calculators. Just six percent approve of giving young students calculators for this purpose.
Parental involvement is seen as one of the most important predictors of a student's success in school.
Most Californians do not think natural ability is the main reason some kids do better than others, but instead attribute success to an external factor. Respondents were asked why some kids do better in school than others and were read a list of options. Most Californians attributed success to parental involvement (42%). In a distant second, 17% said kids with a more stable home life do better. This response is similar to the top mention, indicating the value Californians place on parental factors. Another 11% said kids who work harder do better and 10% volunteered that all the reasons read to them stand behind some kids doing better than others. Just six percent said the kids with more natural ability do better and just five percent said the kids with better teachers are more likely to stand out.
Asian parents were more likely to attribute academic success to hard work, with 22% of Asian parents giving this response compared with 13% of Latino, 8% of African American, and 5% of white parents. White (45%), African American (40%) and Latino (55%) parents were more likely to attribute academic success to parental involvement than were Asian parents (35%).
Californians overwhelmingly believe that too many students get passed to the next grade who should be held back.
A high 85% of respondents believe that too many students get passed to the next grade when they should have been held back. In fact, 62% strongly agreed with this statement. Just ten percent disagreed. Asian parents were significantly less likely to agree with this statement. While 89% of white parents, 94% of African American parents, and 85% of Latino parents agreed, just 59% of Asian parents did so (31% disagreed). Among Asian parents who agreed, intensity was lower. Just 30% of Asian parents strongly agreed, compared with 67% of whites, 77% of African Americans, and 61% of Latinos.
While more Californians think grades are a better indicator of success in school than tests, they overwhelmingly support standardized tests as a criterion for advancement.
Three-fourths (78%) of Californians approved of requiring students to pass a standardized test as one of the criteria for advancing to the next grade level or graduating from high school. In fact, 56% strongly approved. Just 17% disapproved (nine percent strongly).
However, when asked what is a better indicator of a child's progress in school, Californians (48% to 38%) and parents (49% to 37%) chose grades over tests by a small margin.
Asian parents were substantially more likely to chose tests over grades -- with 54% choosing tests and 33% choosing grades. White, African American, and Latino parents were more likely to choose grades over tests.
Strong support exists for the voucher program, but opinions are divided on full-inclusion practices.
The survey results indicate that Californians and California parents specifically support efforts to give them more choice about where their children go to school and with whom. Sixty-one percent of all respondents and 64% of parents said they favor establishing a school voucher program that would allow parents to use tax funds to send their children to the school of their choice, even if it were a private school. In fact, 40% of all respondents and 42% of parents strongly favored this program. Thirty-two percent of all respondents and 28% of parents opposed it. Parents of children 18 years of age or older were more likely to oppose the voucher program, with 40 percent giving this response. Private school parents, who usually pay costly tuition without assistance, were somewhat more in favor of the voucher program than public school parents (73% to 62%).
Opinions were nearly divided on full inclusion, which places students with behavioral or learning disabilities in classrooms with students without these disabilities, rather than in special education classes. Forty-two percent approved of the practice and 50% opposed it. Opposition was more intense, with 33% strongly opposed, compared to 20% who strongly favored the practice. Parents of children 18 years of age or older were more likely to oppose full inclusion. More affluent residents were also more likely to oppose full inclusion. Latino and Asian parents showed more support for full inclusion (63% and 57% respectively) than white and African American parents.
High proportions of parents report participating in their child's education.
The majority of parents claimed that they always help their kids with homework, with 55% giving this response; another 27% said they usually do, and 13% said they sometimes help their kids with their homework. Just three percent said they rarely help and one percent said they never do. All parent groups were nearly equally as likely to say they help their children with homework. However, parents of elementary school children were more likely to say they always help their child.
Two-thirds of parents also reported volunteering in their child's school (67%), with four percent saying they do so every day, 18% saying they do so between 2 to 4 times a week, 15% volunteer once a week and 31% said they do so less often. Just 32% said they do not volunteer. Again, parents of an elementary-school child were more likely to say they volunteer.
Participation increases with rising income level. Less affluent parents may have to work more hours and, therefore, do not have the opportunity to participate. Private school parents were also more likely than public school parents to volunteer at their child's school (85% to 64%), but were no more likely to help their children with their homework.
Asian parents were less likely to help their children with homework. Forty-five percent of Asian parents said they always help their child with homework, while 55% of Latino parents, 56% of white parents, and 61% of African American parents did so. Overall, however, 71% of Asian parents said they always or usually help their children with their schoolwork, only slightly less than the 84% to 87% found among other racial/ethnic groups.
Parents believe their children are safe from crime while they are in school.
Despite all the publicity surrounding crime in school in recent years, parents believe their kids are safe in school. Forty-four percent believe they are very safe and another 38% think they are somewhat safe (82%). Just 17% think they are unsafe. As school level increases, so does the concern about safety. Twenty-seven percent of parents of a high school child said their child is unsafe in school. Twenty-three percent of middle school parents felt this way and just 11% of parents thinking of an elementary school child gave this response.
Parents think their kids are safe at school, despite 39% saying they have heard or been told about a student bringing a weapon to their child's school. Seven percent said they hear about weapons being brought to school frequently, 12% said they hear about it occasionally and 20% said they hear about it rarely. Unsurprisingly, parents of an elementary school student are far less likely to have heard of a student bringing a weapon to their child's school (74%) than middle school parents (56%) and high school parents (32%). Yet 24% of elementary school parents had heard of someone bringing a weapon to their child's school -- a surprisingly high proportion.
English immersion programs are preferred over bilingual education.
At the time this poll was taken, the debate over how best to educate California students who are not fluent in English was already dominating discussion in the state. The Unz initiative, Prop. 227, which qualified for the ballot shortly after this poll was taken, has furthered this debate.
While further examination may have altered opinions in some way, when this poll was conducted, opinion was divided on bilingual education (in an unaided question that allowed respondents to answer based on their current perceptions and knowledge of bilingual education). Forty percent reported having a favorable impression of bilingual education (21% very favorable) and 42% had an unfavorable impression of the program (26% very unfavorable). Just 15% were unaware of bilingual education -- indicating the volume at which this debate has taken place.
In the unaided question, the affluent residents -- those making over $60,000 a year in household income -- were more than twice as likely to oppose bilingual education than the lowest income group (those making less than $20,000). Parents with children in private school were also more likely to have an unfavorable opinion of bilingual education, with half of this group giving this response compared to 37% of public school parents. Unaided, Latino and Asian parents had the most favorable opinion of bilingual education, with 60% of Latino and 64% of Asian parents having a favorable impression of it. Just 28% of white and 45% of African American parents said they had a favorable view of bilingual education.
Respondents were then read a statement about bilingual education, and after this statement, support rose to 55%. Opposition remained virtually unchanged, at 41%. The question wording informed respondents that "bilingual education programs provide a method of teaching students who are not fluent in English. As the students are learning English they are taught in their primary language in other subjects, such as math and science, so that they keep up with their English-speaking classmates." It is important to note that the language of the aided bilingual education question gave a definition that, in theory, is correct, but may not be believed in practice. This could exaggerate the level of support.
The most often proposed alternative to bilingual education is English immersion. Although a majority of Californians were unfamiliar with English immersion programs, after being told about it more than two-thirds favored the program. Fifty-three percent said they had not heard enough about English immersion to give it a rating and another 10% said they were unsure how to rate it (for a total of 63%) when asked their opinion without being given any definition of English immersion. Of those who had an opinion, the vast majority felt positively about English immersion (30% favorable to 7% unfavorable). After hearing a description of English immersion, support increased to 69%, with 33% having a strongly favorable impression. Just 22% opposed it. Awareness of English immersion was slightly lower among non-parents and parents of children 18 years of age or older. The description of English immersion in the aided question was: "English immersion programs provide another method of teaching students who are not fluent in English. These programs place such students in English language classrooms but provide bilingual teaching aides as well as visual and oral cues intended to make the lesson understandable to non-English speakers."
Latino and Asian parents were more aware of English immersion programs than whites and African Americans. Just 37% of Asians and 46% of Latinos said they did not have an opinion on immersion programs or had not heard enough to evaluate it in the unaided question. Sixty-eight percent of whites and 75% of African Americans gave this response. Not only were Latinos and Asians more aware, but they had a generally favorable view, with 48% and 52%, respectively, saying they favor immersion programs. After hearing a description of English immersion, support was high (67%-79%) among all racial groups, but remained slightly higher among Asian and Latino parents.
After hearing about both methods of teaching students who are not fluent in English, 47% of respondents believed that English immersion is a more effective method of teaching children who are not fluent in English than bilingual education. Thirty-two percent chose bilingual education as the method of choice. While the least affluent were divided over which teaching method is preferable, the most affluent chose immersion over bilingual by more than 2 to 1 (54% to 23%).
Asian parents were the only racial/ethnic group to believe bilingual education was a better method of teaching students not fluent in English (49% to 27%). Latino parents were divided over which teaching method is more effective (41% to 44%). And white (29% to 48%) and African American (36% to 45%) parents showed a greater preference for English immersion.
Related to opinions about English immersion are opinions about the impact of immigrant children. Californians were divided when asked if they thought immigrant children have had a positive or negative impact on public schools in California. Thirty-three percent said they have had a positive impact and 37% said the impact had been negative. Just 12% thought immigrant children had no impact at all and 18% were uncertain. Again, more affluent residents were more likely to think immigrants have had a negative impact on public schools, with 51% of those with annual household incomes of $60,000 a year or more giving this response.
White parents were the most likely to think that immigrant children have had a negative impact on public schools in California. Fifty-one percent gave this response, compared with 39% of African American parents, 36% of Latino parents, and 14% of Asian parents. Asian parents said immigrant children have had a positive impact in the highest proportions -- with 61% giving this response, compared to 40% of Latino, 30% of African American, and 26% of white parents.
A majority believe students of all races are treated equally; however, many believe whites are treated better.
While nearly half of respondents believed that all racial and ethnic groups are treated equally in public schools, 20% believed whites are treated better (just 2% feel this way about Asians or African Americans and 6% feel this way about Latinos). Eighteen percent were unsure if one group is treated better than another. When respondents who felt not all groups are treated equally were asked who they think receives worse treatment, 17% said African Americans are treated worse and 13% felt this way about Latinos. Seven percent said whites are treated worse and 3% said Asians. Another 6% believe all minorities are treated worse. Twenty-three percent of those who said one group is treated better did not think any group was treated worse and 24% were uncertain who is treated worse.
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 non-Asian 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.