Nearly a year after a landmark court case invalidated California’s tenure system for public school K-12 teachers, more than one-third of voters say they believe these teachers should not be granted tenure at all, according to the results of the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. But data also show that voters most trust teachers to improve the state’s public schools, consider them underpaid and back measures to support and improve their performance in the classroom.
When asked if and after how long public school teachers should be given tenure, 38 percent said they shouldn’t be given tenure — which comes with strong job security and makes it more difficult to fire poor-performing teachers. Another 35 percent said tenure should not be granted until a teacher has been on the job for at least four to 10 years, the poll showed.
“Californians want their children’s teachers to succeed and want to give them every tool possible to succeed, but they are also willing to take stronger steps to remove ineffective teachers in the classroom,” said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of USC. “At a certain point if teachers don’t succeed, voters want to replace them with people who will.”
When asked to choose from a list of reforms they believe would improve the quality of public schools, the highest percentage of voters (82 percent) chose providing teachers with a one-year apprenticeship with a high-performing experienced teacher before they are given their own classroom.
As for other reforms, 73 percent of voters said making it easier to fire underperforming teachers would improve the quality of public schools; 71 percent said putting more money into public schools in economically disadvantaged areas; 64 percent said tying teachers’ salaries to performance evaluations; and 52 percent said extending the tax increase that provides additional funding to public schools and other programs.
In teachers they trust
Voters also named teachers as the group they most trust to improve the state’s public schools. Half of voters said they most trusted teachers at schools in their community to improve public schools, followed by 48 percent who named parents of public school students. Twenty-two percent of voters said they most trusted teachers’ unions to improve public schools, followed by 17 percent who named school administrators and superintendents.
“Clearly when it comes to education, all politics is local. California voters trust teachers and parents far more than the teachers union, school administrators or statewide officials,” said Matt Rodriguez, a distinguished Unruh Institute fellow and Democratic strategist.
Voters also rejected the notion that teachers should be laid off based on seniority, a practice that was also struck down as unconstitutional in last June’s Vergara v. California ruling.
When asked how California schools should lay off teachers when necessary, 53 percent of voters said layoffs should first target teachers who receive poor marks in classroom observations, and 26 percent said teachers whose students did not make enough progress on standardized tests throughout the year should be laid off first.
Just 8 percent of California voters said layoffs should first target the teacher with the least seniority or classroom experience, the poll showed.
“Seniority is clearly the least important factor in teacher performance. Voters across all demographic groups reject the ‘last in, first out’ policy by overwhelming margins,” said David Kanevsky, vice president of the Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, part of the part of the bipartisan team with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research that conducted the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.
Performance or experience?
When asked whether administrators should take into account teacher performance or years of teaching experience when making layoff decisions, 82 percent of voters said administrators should take performance more into account, as compared to 11 percent who said seniority should be taken more into account.
“The average voter may not know the name of the Vergara case, but they tend to approve its basic tenets of accountability. At the same time, voters hardly fault most teachers; they see teachers as part of the solution, not the problem,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Rosner Research.
Latino voters were more likely than white voters to support teacher apprenticeships (86 perent), putting money into economically disadvantaged public schools (82 percent), extending tax increases to provide additional public school funding (62 percent) and making teacher pay based on their performance evaluations (69 percent).
“While there remains broad-based support for funding for public schools, socioeconomic and racial divides exist on how to improve schools with Latinos showing greater support for enhanced funding in disadvantaged areas, teacher pay based on evaluations and student achievement,” said Michael Madrid, a distinguished Unruh Institute fellow, Republican strategist and nationally recognized expert on Latino voting trends. “This split shows the different approach between Latinos and whites on how to improve the education their children are receiving.”
A strong majority of voters also believe teachers are underpaid for their work. Fifty-six percent of voters said California public school teachers are underpaid, 27 percent said teachers were paid “just about right” and 5 percent said teachers were paid too much.
When asked what should determine teacher pay, 86 percent of voters said a teacher’s education and training should be either the most important or an important factor, followed by 77 percent of voters who said it should be their students’ achievement and progress on a range of measures, including standardized tests, classroom observations and parent feedback; 77 percent said whether the teacher is at a low-performing school where students need the most help; 64 percent who said students’ achievement and progress on standardized tests; and 57 percent who said seniority in the number of years of classroom teaching experience.
Latino voters were more likely to support tying teacher pay to student achievement (85 percent) as compared to white voters (74 percent).
The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, the largest statewide survey of registered voters, was conducted March 28-April 7 and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cell phone samples in the state. The full sample of 1,504 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points.