Calif. Poll Finds Support for State Action on Schools

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Californians are continuing to lose confidence in their public schools and appear ready to let state policymakers, not local school boards, lead the way to reform, according to a statewide poll.

In the survey of 1,003 Californians, 61 percent agreed that the schools need a "major overhaul," up from 54 percent who were asked the same question two years ago. Just 6 percent felt that the schools provide a "quality education."

The poll was conducted last month by Policy Analysis for California Education, a university-based think tank, and the Field Institute polling firm in San Francisco. "It's like they're saying: 'We're fed up and we're not going to take it anymore, and I don't care who fixes it, just fix it,'" said Michael W. Kirst, a co-director of PACE.

Respondents strongly favored the centralized mandates that have been proposed recently by Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican.

Eighty-four percent backed his plan to hold mandatory four-week summer school programs for low-performing students. Mr. Wilson's idea of adding a state inspector general for schools was supported by 68 percent. And 63 percent backed his proposal to add at least eight days to the school year.

"It seems to me that there certainly is a way to move from the status quo," Lisa A. Kalustian, a spokeswoman for the governor, said last week. "The status quo in this state has not led to success for all students."

The poll's margin of error ranged between 3 and 4.5 percentage points, depending on the number of people surveyed for each question.

Teachers, Parents Trusted

Teachers joined state government as the perceived best agents of change.

Forty-six percent said that teachers should decide on classroom teaching methods, compared with 21 percent for state government and 18 percent for local boards. ("Calif. School Board Infusing Pegagogy Into Frameworks," in This Week's News.)

When asked whom they trusted most to shape policies that raise student achievement, 33 percent picked parents and 32 percent chose teachers. Seventeen percent chose state government, and 12 percent picked local school boards.

But 36 percent trust state government most to set promotion and graduation requirements, compared with 31 percent for teachers and 20 percent for local school boards.

"We see a consistent absence of faith in local school boards or administrators as forceful agents of reform," the report says.

The California School Boards Association countered that the report fails to reflect individuals' support for their local schools, and is unfairly critical of school boards.

"It's a funny way to ask about it because they didn't include administrators," the association's executive director, Davis Campbell, said of the poll. "In a way, they isolate school boards."

Respondents were evenly split on Mr. Wilson's plan to lower the threshold for passing school bonds from a two-thirds vote to a simple majority, with 46 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.

Asked about President Clinton's proposed voluntary national tests in reading and mathematics, 64 percent said they favored the idea, while 28 percent were against.

Californians favor local control of bilingual education policy over state-mandated practices 49 percent to 45 percent, the poll found.

The results could be significant because the state faces a statewide ballot-initiative vote this June which, if passed, would require children with limited-English proficiency to participate in English-immersion programs.

In general, Democrats and Republicans showed fairly even levels of support for centralized state mandates such as ending social promotions and extending the school year.

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