PPIC Poll Looks At What We Know of Education

New PPIC poll show support for additional local control

by Brian Leubitz

The PPIC poll, besides taking the standard poll numbers for the governor and Legislature, focuses on an issue at each release. This month, they take a look at what we know of our education system, and what we can do to improve it. But first, you can see from the graph that Gov. Brown is down slightly from his 51% peak in January, but still hovering in a pretty solid position. Without any recognizable challenger on the horizon, these are numbers that should carry him to an easy re-election. However, the political types always prefer to see the approval number above 50%, but there just aren't any California politicians that really have any numbers that are better now.

The legislature also peaked in January, when they almost reached parity with their disapproval numbers (41-42). They continue a dive back to their normal numbers, this time at 31-53. January's highs are probably not all that surprising, given the freshly balanced budget that was emerging at the beginning of the year due to the passage of Prop 30. And then, as we tend to not trust our politicians in California, no news is bad news and numbers trend down. But without the major crises that we faced a few years back with our budget, perhaps the new normal on those numbers is higher now.

Moving on to education, we get something of a mixed bag. First of all, few Californians know just how much are schools are being starved of resources. Only 36% knew that we were near the bottom of the fifty states in per pupil spending. On the flip side, more survey respondents (47%) knew that California ranks below average for test results.

But what of those test results? How valuable are they really? Well, here is how Californians see the value of testing:

When asked how confident they are that standardized tests accurately indicate a student's progress and abilities, about half of Californians say they are very (11%) or somewhat (42%) confident, while 44 percent are not too confident (27%) or not at all confident (17%). Californians were more confident about testing in April 2006 than they are today (63% vs. 53%). Californians are more likely to say that students in their communities get the right amount of testing in elementary and middle school schools (40%) and high school (39%) than they are to say that students get too much testing (24% elementary and middle school, 21% high school) or not enough (29% elementary and middle school, 31% high school).

To be completely honest, I'm not sure what you are supposed to make of those numbers. Apparently we do too much, but too little, but exactly the right amount of testing.

And that is not where the contradictions end. We like our local schools, but every other school isn't so great. Perhaps that is a result of a real desire for additional local control. In fact, 78% of respondents said that they would support additional local control of the school districts.

Finally, and most importantly for the Governor, large majorities (71%) also favor his plan to increase funding more rapidly for schools with higher percentages of English language learners and low-income students, with 74% believing that system will improve the results.

Clearly there is a much larger discussion still to come about school funding over the next few months.