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More Than Eight in Ten Say Children Are Falling Behind Academically During the Pandemic

MOST APPROVE OF NEWSOM’S HANDLING OF K–12 EDUCATION; A SOLID MAJORITY ARE CONCERNED PUBLIC SCHOOLS WON’T BE FULLY OPEN THIS FALL

SAN FRANCISCO, April 28, 2021—One year after the state’s schools halted in-person learning due to COVID-19, more than eight in ten Californians think children are falling behind academically during the pandemic. Most Californians approve of how Governor Newsom is handling the state’s K–12 public education system, though six in ten are concerned that California’s K–12 schools will not be open for full-time in-person instruction this fall. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California.

(Note: As a companion piece to the new survey, PPIC is publishing a blog post by president and CEO Mark Baldassare, “Reading the Tea Leaves on the Governor’s Recall.”)

Overwhelming majorities of Californians (86% adults; 83% public school parents) say children are falling behind academically during the pandemic. Among all adults, 64 percent say children are falling behind a lot, and 22 percent say they are falling behind a little. Among public school parents, 60 percent say a lot, and 23 percent say a little. Across racial/ethnic groups, more than eight in ten say children are falling behind during the pandemic (whites: 66% a lot, 22% a little; Asian Americans: 64% a lot, 21% a little; Latinos: 62% a lot, 23% a little; African Americans: 55% a lot, 30% a little).

Californians are similarly concerned that students in lower-income areas and English language learners are especially likely to fall behind academically. Eight in ten are either very (42% adults, 42% public school parents) or somewhat (42% adults, 45% public school parents) concerned that students in lower-income areas have been more likely to fall behind. Across racial/ethnic groups, 50 percent of Asian Americans, 49 percent of African Americans, 46 percent of Latinos, and 35 percent of whites are very concerned. Similar shares of Californians are very (32% adults, 35% public school parents) or somewhat (48% adults, 45% public school parents) concerned that English language learners have been more likely to fall behind academically. Across racial/ethnic groups, African Americans (37%), Latinos (37%), and Asian Americans (35%) are more likely than whites (26%) to be very concerned.

“Californians overwhelmingly believe that children have fallen behind academically during the pandemic and that students in lower-income areas and English language learners have been most at risk,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Most Approve of the Governor’s Handling of K–12 Education

Majorities of Californians (57% adults, 64% public school parents) approve of how Governor Newsom is handling the state’s public K–12 system. The governor’s K–12 approval rating was higher last April, early in the pandemic (73% adults, 78% public school parents), but it was similar in April 2019 (53% adults, 68% public school parents). Views of the governor’s handling of K–12 education break along party lines, with 79 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of independents, and 22 percent of Republicans approving. Approval of Governor Newsom’s handling of school reopenings (56% adults, 58% public school parents) is similar to his overall K–12 approval. Across partisan groups, 76 percent of Democrats, 54 percent of independents, and 24 percent of Republicans approve.

“Majorities of Californians approve of the way that Governor Newsom is handling the state’s K–12 public schools and school reopening, while they remain deeply divided along party lines,” Baldassare said.

Most Want Schools At Least Partially Opened Now and Are Concerned Schools Will Not Fully Open This Fall

Amid continued public deliberation over reopening California’s K–12 schools, majorities say that schools should be at least partially opened now. Among all adults, 53 percent say schools should be partially opened and 28 percent say they should be fully opened. Among public school parents, 48 percent say schools should be partially opened and 27 percent say they should be fully opened.

Looking ahead to fall 2021, solid majorities of Californians are concerned that K–12 schools will not be open for full-time in-person instruction. Six in ten adults say they are concerned (24% very, 37% somewhat), as do two in three public school parents (25% very concerned, 41% somewhat concerned). At least two in ten across racial/ethnic groups say they are very concerned that schools will not be open for full-time in-person instruction this fall (25% Asian Americans, 25% Latinos, 24% whites, 21% African Americans).

“Most Californians and public school parents want the state’s K–12 public schools to be at least partially opened today, and six in ten are concerned that schools will not be fully open this fall,” Baldassare said.

Strong Majorities Approve of Their District’s Handling of School Closures

Asked about the way their local school district has been handling school closures, 65 percent of adults and 72 percent of public school parents approve. However, far more public school parents (92%) approved in April 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. Today, majorities across regions (74% Los Angeles, 68% Inland Empire, 66% San Francisco Bay Area, 60% Central Valley, 54% Orange/San Diego) approve of how their school district has been handling school closures, as do majorities across racial/ethnic and other demographic groups.

A solid majority of public school parents say they are either very (15%) or somewhat (48%) satisfied with their ability to provide a productive environment for distance learning during school closures. A similar share is very (19%) or somewhat (42%) satisfied with the instruction and activities provided by their youngest child’s school.

“Two in three Californians approve of their school district’s handling of school closures, and most public school parents are at least somewhat satisfied with the distance learning that has taken place,” Baldassare said.

Overwhelming Majorities Favor Year-End Testing, Despite Mixed Views on Accuracy

With the end of the school year approaching, three in four (75% adults, 76% public school parents) favor conducting year-end state testing to measure the pandemic’s impact on student learning. About one in four (23% adults, 23% public school parents) oppose year-end testing this spring. Nationally, half of public school parents favor year-end testing, according to a National PTA survey conducted in February 2021. Across racial/ethnic groups in California, strong majorities favor year-end testing: 83 percent of Latinos, 70 percent of Asian Americans, 70 percent of whites, and 68 percent of African Americans.

However, Californians have mixed views on the accuracy of standardized tests. A majority say they are very (10% adults, 13% public school parents) or somewhat (43% adults, 44% public school parents) confident that standardized tests accurately measure a student’s progress and abilities. But more than four in ten say they are either not too confident (31% adults, 31% public school parents) or not at all confident (14% adults, 11% public school parents). Fewer than two in ten across racial/ethnic groups are very confident about test accuracy (18% African Americans, 15% Latinos, 9% Asian Americans, 7% whites).

“Three in four Californians favor conducting year-end state testing this spring to measure the pandemic’s impact on learning, although only about half have confidence in their accuracy,” Baldassare said.

Most Give Their Local Schools Good Grades, but a Growing Share Would Opt for Private School

Asked to give their local public schools a letter grade, 41 percent of adults and 50 percent of public school parents would give an A or B (adults: 9% A, 32% B; public school parents: 6% A, 44% B). Responses among all adults were similar in April 2020 (11% A, 34% B), but public school parents were somewhat more likely to give an A a year ago (14% A, 39% B). Across racial/ethnic groups, African Americans (29%) are least likely to give an A or a B (43% Latinos, 42% Asian Americans, 42% whites).

Forty-two percent of parents say they would send their youngest child to a private school if cost and location were not at issue. This compares with 31 percent who would choose traditional public schools, 14 percent charter schools, and 13 percent religious schools. The share that would opt for private school has increased somewhat in recent years (35% 2019, 31% 2018).

“Californians’ grades for their local public schools are similar to before the pandemic, but more parents are saying they would send their child to a private school if cost and location were not an issue,” Baldassare said.

Most Say School Funding Is Inadequate; Majorities Would Vote Yes on School Construction Bonds

About half of Californians (49% adults, 53% likely voters, 51% public school parents) say that the current level of state funding for their local public schools is not adequate. Similar shares held this view in April 2020 (50% adults, 55% likely voters, 55% public school parents). Across partisan groups, Democrats (60%) are much more likely than independents (45%) and Republicans (34%) to say state funding for local public schools is inadequate.

Asked how they would vote on a state bond measure for school construction, majorities of adults (59%), likely voters (55%), and public school parents (74%) say they would vote yes. Democrats (73%) are far more likely than independents (52%) and Republicans (34%) to hold this view. Asked about a local bond measure for school construction, majorities of adults (58%), likely voters (52%), and public school parents (73%) would vote yes. Democrats (68%) are much more likely than independents (50%) and Republicans (35%) to say they would vote yes.

“About half of Californians say that the level of state funding for their local schools is inadequate, and majorities would vote yes on state and local school construction bonds,” Baldassare said.

About the Survey

The Californians and Education survey is supported with funding from the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Sobrato Family Foundation, and the Stuart Foundation.

The findings presented above are based on responses from 1,602 California adult residents. The sampling error is ±3.4 percent for the total unweighted sample. Interviewing took place from April 1–14, 2021. For more information on methodology, see page 21.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.

 

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