With money in their pockets, Southern Californians now want to do something to improve their schools.

While many participants in a special poll conducted on behalf of a consortium of news media acknowledged progress in some academic areas, they said the government does not expect enough from teachers, and that teachers do not demand enough either in class work or respect.

One respondent, who teaches medical billing at an adult vocational school in Riverside, said some of her students with high school diplomas cannot read.

“I tell you, no lie, when I say I had one student who couldn’t read the word cat let alone spell it,” said JoEllen Dawson. “It astounds me that she was allowed to graduate from high school. Our standards have gotten too low.”

Dawson was one of 522 residents to participate in the poll. The 37-question poll was conducted Feb. 16 to March 2 through 552 telephone interviews.
It has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

Not everyone felt that schools were going to hell in a handbasket.

“Education is out in the public, so it’s the focus of people’s attention one way or another,” said Dennis Hodges, president of the Riverside City Teachers Association. “But it’s easy to be critical of education and caught up in the things that aren’t going right. We often forget the progress we’ve made.”

Working together as the Election Connection, participating news organizations wanted to find out how residents thought the country was going and look at how residents viewed election-related proposals and issues. A follow-up poll is planned in the fall.

Sixty-two percent of the polled residents favored Prop. 227, the ballot initiative that would eliminate most bilingual education. While support among Asians and whites was high, opinions among Hispanics were evenly divided,
with about 45 percent in favor and a like percentage opposed.

That did not surprise Aurora Gonzalez, representative for the California Association of Bilingual Educators in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

“When a kid comes here from Japan or Korea or China that isn’t always as important to them,” she said. “But we’re only 90 minutes from the border. And Spanish thrives here. So Hispanics are often more likely to see the importance of bilingual courses.”

Respondent Daniel Leonhardt of Lake Arrowhead said he spent a year in Guatemala during high school. Seven months into his stay he had passed all of his classes in Spanish.

“Today it seems like kids are in these bilingual classes for three and four and five years, and they still don’t know English, and I think that’s a problem,” said Leonhardt, the west coast regional manager of an electronics and computers customer service company.

While slightly less than half of the black respondents favored the ballot measure, 64 percent favored restructuring bilingual education in some way.

The get-tough-on-education mood came across in respondents’ opinions on proposals by California politicians that would crack down on students,
parents and teachers.

Eighty percent of respondents favored firing teachers if they do not pass periodic competency tests. That included Dawson, even though she is a teacher.

“Teachers get older, and I can attest to that,” said Dawson,
50. “I think teachers should be tested often to make sure they are up to date on all the current teaching methodologies and technology. If we’re competent, we’ll have nothing to worry about. But if we’re not, we should be made to take classes to bring us up to a certain level.”

Hodges of the teachers association said the proposal was insulting.

“On the surface it has a nice ring to it just like apple pie, and that’s why so many people favor it,” he said. “But if the same standard was applied to their particular expertise area they would feel offended by it.”

Sixty-seven percent of those polled thought students should have to complete 2 hours of homework a night and parents should be required to make sure it is done. And 86 percent of residents want students to take summer school if they do not pass proficiency tests.

“Too often we’re turning all these students loose on society when they’re not proficient in what they’re doing,” said George Chaves,
a San Bernardino electrical contractor. “Some can hardly read. When you look at that, summer school almost doesn’t seem like enough.”

Sixty-seven percent of respondents want schools to conduct random drug tests of students, a proposal by Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, who is a Democratic candidate for governor.

“They do random drug testing at my work, and I don’t have a problem with that, so why should students make such a big deal,” said Jeanette Bovin, a Riverside automobile assembler. “Anyone who thinks this violates their civil rights is turning their backs on a major problem.”

The poll also found:

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  • Twenty-five percent of those polled believed schools in their area
    were improving. An equal number thought schools were getting worse. Thirty-four
    percent said they were about the same.
  • Slightly more than half the respondents favored requiring school districts
    to limit their administrative costs to no more than 5 percent of their
    budget, as called for in an initiative on the June primary ballot.
  • Forty percent favored lowering the percentage of voters required to
    approve local school bonds from two-thirds to a simple 50 percent majority.
  • Forty percent said they volunteered in some capacity at a local school,
    or athletic program, or in any civic, community or political activity.



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