USC Rossier/PACE poll: California voters support new public school accountability efforts

February 8, 2018

A new poll shows that a majority of state voters support the California School Dashboard, a performance gauge that was created by the state last year to improve equity and transparency in school quality.

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Launched in March 2017, the California School Dashboard is an online tool that shows how schools are performing according to the various indicators that comprise the state’s education accountability system.

State education leaders hoped the dashboard would better inform parents as well as improve equity in schools. Some organizations panned the system when it debuted, with one calling it “more confusing than practical.”

Yet a new USC Rossier/PACE poll finds that a majority of voters who have heard of the system had a positive impression, and among parent voters, 72 percent said they had a positive impression of the dashboard. Majorities of all respondents also said they thought the dashboard captured the most important measures of school quality, that it was easy to understand and that it was an effective means to communicate outcomes.

“Innovation takes time, but our schools will keep facing the same inequities unless we’re willing to take some risks, and California is taking some risks,” said Karen Symms Gallagher, dean of theUSC Rossier School of Education. “It’s clear that parents are willing to give their support to a system designed to make school quality transparent and accessible, and it’s important for state leaders to keep refining the dashboard if they want to build on that support.”

The results come from the sixth annual edition of the USC Rossier/PACE poll, a partnership of the USC Rossier School of Education and Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), a university-affiliated, non-partisan research center.

Polling firms Tulchin Research and Moore Information conducted the survey of 2,500 registered California voters online from January 21-28. USC Rossier professors Julie Marsh and Morgan Polikoff, as well as Associate Professor David Quinn designed the questions with PACE executive director David N. Plank and the polling firms.

School accountability measures

Respondents were somewhat split on how they felt toward using multiple measures in school accountability. While most states under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act now give single overall performance ratings to schools, California opted to offer several ratings, for things like absenteeism, suspension rates and graduation rates. Overall respondents were, by a slim majority, more supportive of using multiple measures than parents, a majority of whom preferred a simple overall grade.

“It may be that parents feel more pressure to actually make decisions about schools for their children, and that’s why they’d like to have a simple overall grade of some kind,” Polikoff said.

School quality

Views toward public schools are trending negative. Forty-three percent of respondents said that California’s public schools have gotten worse over the past few years, up from 39 percent in August 2016; a plurality of voters (44 percent) would give California’s public schools an overall grade of ‘C.’

When schools perform well, 68 percent of voters said that teachers deserved the most credit-the only group to get a majority of support; fewer voters (30 percent) would blame teachers if schools were failing.

More good news for teachers: 91 percent of parents gave their local public school teachers a passing grade.

State funding

Asked a variety of ways-and given information on what percentage of the state budget is spent on education, and spending amounts per pupil-a majority of voters also said that the state should spend more on its public schools.

“Public opinion appears to align with broader calls from district leaders throughout the state who report struggling with rising costs related to pensions and special education and deep concerns about adequacy of funding,” Marsh said.

Charter schools

While voters wavered on whether California should have more or fewer charter schools based on perceived political support for them by President Donald Trump or former President Barack Obama, a quarter of respondents said that the state has “about the right amount of charter schools.”