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California voters reject tenure, layoff rules for public school teachers

A new PACE/USC Rossier Poll also shows voters have soured on Common Core State Standards despite increased awareness

classroom setting
The poll showed that two-thirds of voters agree that California should do away with “Last In, First Out." (Photo/Thomas Favre-Bulle)

A strong majority of California voters oppose the state’s tenure and layoff policies for public school teachers, according to a new poll released just days after the landmark Vergara court case invalidated both statutes as unconstitutional.

Six in 10 California voters said teachers should not continue to receive tenure.

The PACE/USC Rossier School of Education Poll showed that two-thirds of voters (68 percent) agree that the state should do away with “Last In, First Out,” a policy that requires the newest K-12 teachers be laid off first, regardless of merit. Just 17 percent said California should continue to conduct teacher layoffs in order of seniority, according to the poll. PACE stands for Policy Analysis for California Education.

California voters also largely opposed the state’s tenure laws for public school teachers, according to the poll. Six in 10 California voters said teachers should not continue to receive tenure, as it makes firing bad teachers difficult. Twenty-five percent of voters said the state should keep tenure for public school teachers to provide them job protections and the freedom to teach potentially controversial topics without fear of reprisals.

When asked specifically about the timeline to tenure — which can be awarded after as little as 18 months in the classroom — 38 percent said two years is too soon to award tenure, and 35 percent said public school teachers shouldn’t receive tenure at all, the poll showed. Seventeen percent of voters said two years was the “right amount of time” to earn tenure, and 4 percent said two years was too long, according to the poll.

“The majority of California voters polled have expressed views that are consistent with Judge [Rolf] Treu’s recent decision in Vergara,” said Julie Marsh, associate professor at USC Rossier. “These views may give pause to those appealing the decision.”

On June 10, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, presiding over Vergara v. California, struck down both teacher tenure and “Last In, First Out” laws, among others, on the grounds they deprive students of their right to an adequate education.

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll showed that 42 percent of voters had heard or read about the Vergara decision, with 58 percent saying they had not heard or read much or any at all about the decision.

Among those with knowledge of the decision, 62 percent said they agreed with the judge that teacher tenure rules violate the state constitution. Twenty-three percent disagreed and 15 percent said they didn’t know.

When asked about California’s teachers unions, 49 percent of voters said they have a “somewhat or very negative” impact on the quality of K-12 education, with 31 percent saying unions have a “somewhat or very positive” impact.

Voters more familiar with Common Core

Nearly half of voters — 47 percent — said they are familiar with Common Core State Standards. That’s up from 2013 when the PACE/USC Rossier Poll showed just 29 percent of voters knew anything about Common Core.

But the most recent results of the poll showed that 44 percent of voters have a negative impression of the new standards, as compared to 38 percent who said they hold a positive impression.

When asked to choose between two statements, 41 percent of voters said California should not implement the Common Core State Standards because they represent a “Washington D.C.-based, one-size-fits-all approach” to education. Thirty-two percent of voters said California is right to implement the standards because they provide a “clear, consistent understanding of what students are expected to learn.”

In the 2013 PACE/USC Rossier Poll, 36 percent of voters said California should adopt the Common Core, with 25 percent opposed to its “one-size-fits-all approach.”

The most recent poll showed support for Common Core also varied widely by age and along party lines. Among Democrats, 46 percent had a positive impression, as compared to 34 percent who had a negative impression. Among Republicans, 56 percent of voters had a negative impression, and 30 percent had a positive impression.

Those aged 65 and older felt most negatively about the Common Core, with 51 percent having a negative impression of Common Core and 36 percent saying they have a positive impression.

“In a strongly Democratic state that has seen relatively few implementation issues, this points to a real messaging problem for advocates of the Common Core,” said Morgan Polikoff, assistant professor of education at USC Rossier and an expert on Common Core curriculum.

State’s public schools earn middling grades

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll also showed Californians continue to rate the state’s education system as being in poor shape.

The largest percentage of Californians (38 percent) gave their state’s schools a grade of “C,” and 43 percent of voters graded them a “D” or “F.” Twenty-six percent of voters gave their local public schools a “D” or “F” rating.

Nearly half of the voters (48 percent) said the state’s schools have gotten worse in recent years, while 33 percent said they stayed the same and 11 percent said they’ve gotten better. Asked about their local schools, however, 35 percent said they’d stayed the same, 34 percent said they’d gotten worse and 21 percent said they’d gotten better.

But Californians were more optimistic when asked to rank the state’s public schools on specific measures of performance, on a scale of 0 (worst) to 10 (best).

Respondents gave the best mean score — a 6.2 — to the question of how the state’s schools teach students the basics: reading, writing and math, up from a rating of 5.1 when the question was asked in 2013.

The next highest marks came for offering career-technical education as an alternative to a four-year university (5.9); preparing students for a four-year university (5.9); and providing parents with a choice of public schools (5.8). Rankings jumped in all categories over the 2013 results from the PACE/USC Rossier Poll.

“There is considerable evidence that public dispositions are more favorable toward public schools than they have been in the last couple of years,” said David Plank, executive director of PACE.  “The share of voters who say their local schools have gotten better has increased significantly, and their assessment of the schools’ performance in specific areas has improved across the board.”

When asked about the November election for state superintendent of public instruction, 27 percent said they would vote for incumbent Tom Torlakson, 16 percent chose charter school executive Marshall Tuck and 57 percent said they couldn’t say.

After watching campaign ads for both candidates, however, 38 percent said they would vote for Torlakson and 36 percent would vote for Tuck.

“Right now, voters don’t have much familiarity with either candidate, and the commercials shown in this poll go a long way in giving voters a look at who those guys are and what they are about,” said Jeff Harrelson, a partner with Republican polling firm MFour Mobile Research, who conducted this poll with Democratic polling firm Tulchin Research. “This tells us that if both candidates are equally adept at getting their message to voters, this could be a very close race.”

The PACE/USC Rossier School of Education Poll was conducted June 19-22 by polling firms MFour Mobile Research and Tulchin Research and surveyed 1,005 registered California voters. The poll was conducted online and allowed respondents to complete the survey on a desktop or laptop computer, tablet or smartphone. The poll was conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for the overall sample was +/- 3.5 percentage points.

The poll is the fourth in a series from PACE and USC Rossier.


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