Times Poll: Few Hold Positive View of L.A. School Board

About one-quarter of voters surveyed support trustees. Riordan's endorsements may sway key group in election.

Only a quarter of city voters hold a favorable opinion of the Los Angeles Board of Education, according to a Times poll, which also found that a small but potentially critical number of voters said Mayor Richard Riordan’s endorsements would make them more likely to support his candidates in the April 13 election.

?????The poll, conducted by telephone from March 20-27, found that 63% of respondents rated their local schools fair to poor, and nearly half of those with children in public schools said they would prefer to send them to private or parochial schools.

?????In addition, an overwhelming majority say that schools should not try to match teachers with students of the same racial and ethnic backgrounds, despite arguments from some activists that youngsters need more role models who look like them.

?????The school board’s low rating contrasts notably with the growing confidence in Los Angeles and its leadership that residents expressed on other poll questions. The Police Department won the approval of almost two-thirds of residents polled, while Riordan was rated positively by 57%.

?????The mayor’s popularity–and the $1.4 million he has raised on behalf of three challengers and one incumbent school board member–introduce important new influences to the races, which traditionally attract little voter attention.

?????To be sure, 63% of the registered voters surveyed said Riordan’s endorsement would not influence their vote, and 11% said they were less likely to vote for the mayor’s candidates. But the 24% of voters polled who said they would be more likely to vote for the mayor’s candidates could prove decisive in contests that at times draw as few as 25,000 ballots.

?????”In a close board election, it’s going to matter whether or not a candidate is supported by the mayor,” said Sheldon Kamieniecki, chairman of the USC political science department.

?????The Times Poll, under the direction of Susan Pinkus, interviewed 1,221 city residents, including 854 registered voters. The margin of error for both samples is 3 percentage points in either direction.

?????Pinkus said Riordan’s involvement in the school board campaigns is “giving all of the board candidates a level of name recognition they’ve never experienced before in these elections. Traditionally, board elections are not even a blip on people’s radar screens.”

?????Indeed, 38% of residents polled said they had no opinion of the school board, which oversees a sprawling district that serves 700,000 students. Thirty-five percent said they held an unfavorable view, while 27% had a favorable one.

?????Poll respondent Michelle Stone, a San Fernando Valley musician with a kindergartner in public school, counted herself among those who might be swayed by Riordan’s advice.

?????”Although I don’t know much about the candidates,” she said in a follow-up interview, “as is often the case in elections, I end up voting on the word of someone in whom I place a measure of trust, and the mayor’s done a good job running the city.”

?????The Times’ survey yielded somewhat mixed results among black and Latino respondents, suggesting that the mayor’s influence continues to be strongest among whites. African Americans were least impressed by Riordan’s involvement in the board races.

?????Only 6% of black respondents said they would be more inclined to vote for a candidate Riordan backed. Twenty-three percent of Latinos and 29% of whites surveyed said they might follow Riordan’s lead. Because the poll was conducted citywide, it cannot indicate what percentage of voters Riordan might sway in any of the four school board districts in which elections will be held this month.

?????The elections come amid great dissatisfaction with the quality of L.A. public schools, where two-thirds of students read below grade level.

?????Strikingly, whites and African Americans were far more negative about the overall quality of education in their local public schools than Latinos, whose children make up 69% of L.A. Unified’s student body.

?????Sixty-seven percent of whites rated their local public schools as fair to poor, while 69% of blacks did so. Fifty-six percent of Latinos said the schools were fair to poor. Those ratings were fairly consistent across the city.

?????Forty-one percent of Latinos rated the schools as good to excellent, while only 17% of whites and 22% of blacks handed out such high praise.

?????Asian Americans were interviewed as part of the overall sample, but there were not enough to break out as a subgroup.

?????Those who found the schools wanting tended to blame school administrators, state officials, former Gov. Pete Wilson and parents. Few blamed teachers.

?????Overall, the 27% of respondents who rated the public schools good to excellent generally credited teachers, school administrators, parents and Gov. Gray Davis, who took office in January.

?????In a particularly damning response, 48% of respondents with children in public schools said they would send their children to private or parochial schools if they could afford it.

?????One-fifth of parents polled said their children attend private or parochial schools.

?????”Los Angeles schools are part of one giant, monolithic monster with more bureaucrats than teachers–all head and no body,” said respondent A.C. Gordon, whose daughter attends public high school in Los Angeles. “Kids feel the effects of that because problems trickle down from the top.”

?????Most Favor Breakup of L.A. Unified

?????More black parents said they would prefer private schools, while Latinos preferred to keep their children in the public school system.

?????In a school district overwhelmed by influxes of immigrant children speaking a variety of languages, 42% of Latinos said immigrant children have a positive impact on education, compared with 30% of blacks and 23% of whites.

?????Pollster Pinkus said those responses were not unexpected. Latinos–particularly immigrants trying to build new lives in the United States–tend to be more optimistic about opportunities in their communities.

?????In another expression of dissatisfaction, 52% of respondents favored breaking up the massive L.A. Unified into smaller independent districts. Sixty-two percent of whites polled supported a breakup, while 46% of Latinos and 38% of African Americans backed such a move.

?????Social promotion–the practice of passing children from one grade to the next before they are academically qualified to move up–triggered concern across the board. A staggering 82% believed that too many students are promoted when they should be held back, a sentiment shared by all racial and ethnic groups.

?????Similarly, a huge majority ignored the arguments of some activists and educators that teachers should reflect the ethnic background of their students.

?????When asked if it should be a very or fairly high priority to hire mostly teachers and administrators of the same racial and ethnic group as that of the students, 81% said no. All ethnic groups were in overwhelming agreement on that.

?????”Education starts at home,” said respondent Jorge Duenas, an accountant from South Los Angeles with three children in public school. “And parents must make their children understand that getting the most out of school means not judging who is teaching, but learning what they are teaching.

?????”If a teacher’s credentials and experience are good,” he added, “it doesn’t matter who the instructor is.”

?????Respondent Miguel Monteon, a South-Central Los Angeles truck driver with three children in public school, was more blunt.

?????”If the teacher can teach well and gets along with kids,” he said, “it doesn’t matter what they are.”

?????Meanwhile, six months after California voters approved Proposition 227, 51% of all respondents said they support efforts to end bilingual education in public schools, while 41% disapproved and 8% had no opinion.

?????In fact, 35% of whites, 47% of blacks and 45% of Latinos believe that more steps should be taken to remove bilingual education from their schools. Virtually no one felt that appropriate measures were being taken to rid campuses of bilingual education.

?????The poll also found that Supt. Ruben Zacarias’ public profile remains abysmally low, even among Latinos.

?????Fifty-four percent of those polled–including nearly half of Latinos–said they did not know who Zacarias was or did not have an opinion about him. Of those who did, only 27% gave him a favorable rating, while 19% rated him unfavorably.

?????”If the public is saying it’s unaware of me or the board, that’s something we need to address,” Zacarias said. “Perhaps through better use of print and electronic media, perhaps by sponsoring more town hall meetings.

?????”We also clearly need to work more closely with the African American community,” he said, referring to its members’ poor rating of the schools and their desire to send their children to private schools. “We owe it to them and their children to resolve their concerns about public schools.”

* * *

?????Assistant Times Poll Director Jill Richardson contributed to this report.

?????In-depth analysis of The Times Poll and excerpts from polling data are available on The Times Web site:http://www.latimes.com/timespoll


* * *


?????Rating Education

?????* Rate the quality of education at your local public schools:

?????All Adults

?????Excellent: 7%

?????Good: 20%

?????Fair: 33%

?????Poor: 30%

?????Don’t know: 10%

?????Parents of School-Age Children

?????Excellent: 16%

?????Good: 27%

?????Fair: 24%

?????Poor: 30%

?????Don’t know: 3%


* * *


?????Rating Faculty and Staff

?????Those who rate the quality of education at local schools as “excellent” or “good” were asked to whom or what they give most of the credit. (Top four responses shown.)

?????All Adults

?????Teachers: 34%

?????School administrators: 14%

?????Parents: 14%

?????Gov. Davis: 12%

* * *

?????Those who rate the quality of education at local schools as “fair” or “poor” were asked to whom or what they give most of the blame. (Top four responses shown.)

?????All Adults

?????School administrators: 17%

?????State government: 15%

?????Former Gov. Wilson: 15%

?????Parents: 14%

* * *

????? Would you favor or oppose breaking the Los Angeles Unified School District into smaller, independent school districts?

?????All Adults

?????Favor: 52%

?????Oppose: 26

?????Don’t know: 22

?????Parents of school-age children

?????Favor: 50%

?????Oppose: 35%

?????Don’t know: 15

* * *

?????How high a priority should it be for schools to hire mostly teachers and administrators of the same racial or ethnic group as the students?

?????All Adults

?????Very high priority: 6%

?????Fairly high priority: 10

?????Fairly low priority: 13

?????Not a priority at all: 68

?????Don’t know: 3

?????Parents of school-age children

?????Very high priority: 8

?????Fairly high priority: 10

?????Fairly low priority: 11

?????Not a priority at all: 69

?????Don’t know: 2

* * *

?????Which comes closer to your view: “Students learn better if they have teachers and school administrators with the same race or ethnicity as theirs,” or “Students can learn just as well with teachers and administrators whose race or ethnicity is not the same as theirs.”

?????All Adults

?????Better if race/etnicity the same: 10

?????Just as well if not the same: 82

?????Don’t know: 8

?????Parents of school-age children

?????Better if race/etnicity the same: 7

?????Just as well if not the same: 85

?????Don’t know: 8

* * *

?????What is your impression of L.A. Unified Supt. Ruben Zacarias?

?????All Adults

?????Favorable: 27%

?????Unfavorable: 19

?????Haven’t heard enough/don’t know: 54

?????Parents of school-age children

?????Favorable: 35

?????Unfavorable: 17

?????Haven’t heard enough/don’t know: 48

* * *

?????…the members of the Los Angeles school board?

?????All Adults

?????Favorable: 27%

?????Unfavorable: 35

?????Haven’t heard enough/don’t know: 38

?????Parents of school-age children

?????Favorable: 35

?????Unfavorable: 33

?????Haven’t heard enough/don’t know: 32

?????Source: L.A. Times Poll. Note: Numbers may not total 100% where not all answer categories are shown.


?????The Times Poll contacted 1,221 residents in Los Angeles, including 854 registered voters, by telephone March 20 through 27. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample and for registered voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the city. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Surveys were conducted in English and Spanish. Asians were interviewed as part of the overall sample, but there were not enough to break out as a separate subgroup.

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