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Californians think teachers should be paid more

Californians love their public school teachers and believe they are underpaid but hold less favorable views of teachers unions and dramatically would change the way teacher salaries are determined, according to results from the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

A majority of California voters – 53 percent – said public school teachers in California are underpaid, but voters also decisively rejected the current standards by which teacher salaries are determined. Just 11 percent favored using seniority as the primary factor to determine teacher pay, and 13 percent favored using the education or advanced training the teacher has received as the main factor.

While only 10 percent of voters favored using student standardized test scores alone to determine teacher pay, a majority of California voters – 53 percent – support using standardized test scores as part of the method by which teacher pay is determined, in conjunction with other measures, including classroom observation and parent feedback. An even larger percentage – 69 percent – said making teachers’ overall performance assessments publicly available would improve the quality of California’s public schools.

Seventy-two percent of voters agreed with the statement that testing is important, but they said teachers should be evaluated on more than student scores on a single test. On average, voters said performance and progress on standardized tests should account for almost half of California public school teacher assessment.

“Californians clearly believe that public school teachers should make more money, but they strongly reject the current system for setting teacher salaries,” said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. “Rather than paying teachers based on how many years they’ve been in the classroom, California voters want to reward teachers for what their students learn.”

The divide in opinion on the importance of standardized testing is particularly stark when broken down by ethnicity.

Fifty-two percent of Latino voters agreed that standardized testing has improved education by allowing parents to see student progress and by providing a more accurate measure of student learning, while 37 percent said standardized testing has hurt public education. The numbers almost were reversed among white voters. A majority of those voters – 56 percent – said standardized testing has hurt public education, and 31 percent said it has helped.

Overall, 77 percent of voters hold a favorable view of California’s public school teachers, and 14 percent have an unfavorable view. Fifty-three percent of voters said public school teachers in California are underpaid, 31 percent said teachers are paid “just right” and 6 percent of voters said teachers are overpaid.

Among voters surveyed, 48 percent had a favorable view of teachers unions and 35 percent had an unfavorable view. Voters were split about the role of teachers unions in improving public schools, with 44 percent agreeing that teachers unions work to improve schools and 43 percent disagreeing. Forty-five percent of voters agreed that teachers unions help teachers succeed a very tough profession, and 40 percent disagreed.

But by a margin of 36 percentage points, voters were much more likely to say teachers unions look out for the interests of teachers rather than the interests of students. Seventy-one percent of voters said teachers unions look out for the interests of teachers, compared to 35 percent that said teachers unions look out for the interests of students.

“There’s clearly no ‘teacher bashing’ sentiment, just a desire for some changes,” said Dominic Brewer, Clifford H. and Betty C. Allen Professor in Urban Leadership and professor of education, economics and policy at the USC Rossier School of Education. “Voters seem to be saying we agree teachers should be paid more, but we also think there should be some student-outcomes component in pay, and there should be much greater transparency.”

Sixty-two percent of voters said teachers unions deserve significant blame for the problems in public schools and “have too much influence over public education policy.” More than half of the state’s voters – 52 percent – said teachers unions are too powerful, including 61 percent of parents with a school-age child. Thirty-six percent of voters overall said teachers unions are not too powerful. By a margin of 51 to 34 percent, parents felt that teachers were resistant to reforms that would improve all schools. Among all voters, the margin was 45 to 37 percent.

“Californians love public school teachers, but they’re not nearly as enthusiastic about teachers unions,” Schnur said. “There’s a huge opportunity here for teachers to play a meaningful role in the discussions regarding school reform, but voters don’t see them as motivated to make those reforms happen.”

Nine percent of those surveyed by the poll were self-identified as teachers. Of these respondents, 38 percent said they belonged to a teachers union and 61 percent said they did not.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted Oct. 30-Nov. 9. It surveyed 1,500 registered voters in California. The poll includes a significant oversample of Latino voters, interviewed in Spanish and English. The margin of error for the overall sample is plus or minus 2.52 percentage points.

For poll methodology, visit

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