Californians' Views on Education
In February 1996, PACE conducted a statewide poll on Californians' views on and expectations for the public schools. In particular, the poll was designed to gain insight into the alignment of the public's views with current directions in education policy.
Conducting a poll among Californians is especially relevant because no comprehensive public poll has been conducted in recent memory and because poll results can serve to inform the wide range of policy discussions underway at the state level. State policymakers, for example, are in the process of redesigning a statewide assessment system (AB 265) to feature grade-by-grade and subject-by-subject standards. This system has potentially far reaching effects for curriculum design and instruction. In addition, the state is engaged in two reform initiatives—Charter Schools and Challenge Districts—which, in different ways, look to test traditional school governance with new approaches. A new proposal for "opportunity scholarships" that seeks to provide public funds for private and parochial schools is now before the legislature. Finally, the California Constitutional Revision Commission will be releasing its recommendations in coming months for far-reaching changes on complex issues of local control and home rule. Additional initiatives on school safety, class size reduction, and new instructional approaches are all currently under discussion in Sacramento.
Policymakers are thus confronted with an array of proposals. But what does the public think about California's schools? Does the public think schools are performing as they should? In what areas of education policy do the public's views align with policymakers' and where do they differ?
Before displaying the poll results, a caveat: PACE does not believe that education policy should be made using public opinion polls.
Nevertheless, Californians' perceptions of the public school system, and of potential policy changes, need to be considered in policy discussions. The results of this poll, PACE believes, can help to inform and focus the debate on public education.
For purposes of this poll, PACE contracted with Peter D. Hart Research Associates of Washington, D.C. The telephone survey, administered between February 9 and 29, 1996, was completed by 803 respondents who were at least 18 years old. The overall results of the survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
The remainder of this paper is composed of three sections. The first section reports the major findings from the poll. In this section, PACE outlines four broad themes and demonstrates, using the poll results, how these conclusions were drawn. The second section is a policy "side-by-side" that shows the relevance of some poll findings to the current education policy discussion in California. The third section, the tabulations of the poll results, is provided so readers can draw their own conclusions based on the questions and responses.