A new poll by the respected Public Policy Institute of California found that a large majority of Californians support school-choice vouchers, which would grant parents public funding to pay for private-school tuition for their children.
While that finding may seem shocking in blue California, that shock quickly dissipates given the state of public education in the Golden State.
In the PPIC poll, 60 percent of adults and 66 percent of public school parents said they favored vouchers.
The support was even higher among African Americans and Latinos – 73 percent and 69 percent, respectively. These support levels are unsurprising considering the low achievement of California’s public-school students. Overall, on the 2015 National Assessment for Educational Progress eighth-grade reading exam, 72 percent of California eighth-graders failed to achieve proficiency. Sadly, 84 percent of African-American and 82 percent of Latino eighth graders failed to hit proficiency.
The results were worse on the math exam, where 73 percent of California eighth graders overall, 86 percent of African Americans, and 87 percent of Latinos failed to achieve proficiency.
Further, the average score of California eighth graders declined in reading and math from 2013 to 2015. California’s decline mirrored a decline nationwide, which could be attributed partly to the concurrent imposition of curricula aligned with the Common Core national education standards.
“The only plausible explanation for such an unprecedented broad national decline,” observed Ze’ev Wurman, former senior education policy advisor under President George W. Bush, “is the Common Core.”
If Common Core is affecting student learning, then it is no surprise that the PPIC survey found that only 43 percent of Californians favor Common Core.
Non-academic factors are also likely adding to the support for vouchers.
First, many parents are concerned about poor safety conditions in schools.
Earlier this year, parents of a female middle-school student filed a lawsuit against a Fresno-area school district after the student was gang raped by fellow students.
As the family’s attorney explained, the perpetrators “were problem kids” and “there was plenty of notice for the school district to determine they should’ve protected the child and done something with these other boys who committed the crime.”
School districts, however, are heading in the opposite direction and reducing safety and discipline measures. Many districts are issuing far fewer suspensions. One teacher told the Fresno Bee, “a student can (curse you out) and we’re told that’s just his personality.”
Doing nothing has consequences, however.
Researchers at the University of California at Davis and the University of Pittsburgh found that adding just one troubled student to a classroom results in significant decreases in reading and math achievement for the whole class and increased misbehavior by other students.
Besides school safety, California parents are fed up with the social engineering going on in their children’s classrooms.
Parents in Cupertino in the Silicon Valley recently revolted when the local school district tried to ramrod a highly explicit sex-education textbook into the middle-school curriculum. The parents forced the school board to withdraw the book.
Finally, parents are sick of highly politicized teachers. In ultra-liberal Berkeley, parents have complained about teacher Yvette Felarca, a leader of the violent radical protest movement in the city. “A person like that should not be an educator,” said one Berkeley mom. The school district has so far ignored parent complaints.
Combine low student achievement, bad curriculum, unsafe environments, social engineering, and ideological teachers, and no wonder California parents want an exit ticket for their children out of the state’s public schools.