Poll: California voters favor teachers but are wary of tenure

Los Angeles Unified School District teachers take a break at George Washington Carver Middle School after listening to Rory Pullens speak.
Los Angeles Unified School District teachers take a break at George Washington Carver Middle School after listening to Rory Pullens speak.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

California voters by-and-large support public school teachers, but have grave concerns about how quickly they receive tenure and how it affects their job prospects, according to a new poll by the University of Southern California and the L.A. Times. 

The poll focused on 1,500 California voters and their attitudes toward public schools, teacher tenure, charter schools and standardized testing. It was overseen by Dan Schnur, Director of USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

"What we found was a very interesting dichotomy," Schnur told KPCC. "Californians are very, very supportive of the state's public schools and public school teachers, and want to give the teachers every possible support that they can to help teachers succeed."

"But," he said, "the voters also made it clear to us that their patience isn't infinite. And of those teachers don't succeed, they want to replace them with those that can." 

The poll found that most Californians feel that teachers receive tenure too quickly. The status, which can make it difficult to fire a teacher without a lengthy evaluation process, is currently granted a little less than two years into an educator's career. 

A majority of voters also feel the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom should be only one factor in determining how effective they are, according to the poll. A vast majority felt that it shouldn't be the sole determinant in whether teachers keep their jobs when schools are forced to cut back. 

"A very large plurality of California voters said they did not think that there should be any teacher tenure at all," Schnur said. "And roughly a third said they thought tenure should be significantly longer than is currently the case."

Last June, a judge in Los Angeles ruled that giving teachers tenure after two years in the state deprives students of a quality education. The decision provoked calls for policymakers to implement new measures ensuring that a teacher's seniority not be the sole factor in determining who gets laid off during cutbacks.

Teachers unions have pushed back, arguing the process protects academic freedom and job security for qualified educators.

Also interesting from the poll is the large difference in how Californians of different backgrounds view standardized testing.

"Lower income Californians and minority Californians — primarily Hispanic-American and African-American Californians — are supporters of standardized student testing.," Schnur said. "But as you move up the socioeconomic ladder and as you talk to white Californians, the support for testing turns very rapidly."

Schnur said his team attributes that difference to the ability of wealthier, whiter Californians to "have the ability, the luxury, to worry about the stress" that standardized tests can cause children.

A few other interesting takeaways from the USC/ L.A. Times poll: 

You can see the full results and phrasing of the questions in the poll below. USC has posted their methodology on their website.