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Is California a Bellwether for Teachers?

It's always risky to extrapolate the results of a poll from one state to another, but if what voters in California are thinking is any indication, then teachers across the nation are entering a new era ("California voters take a dim view of teacher tenure," Los Angeles Times, Apr. 11).  At least that's one takeaway from a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times telephone survey of 1,504 voters from Mar. 28 through Apr. 7.  

Their views are in line with the decision in the widely publicized Vergara v. California suit last year. Specifically, respondents favored far more time before tenure is granted, performance to count more than seniority in layoffs, and pay raises to be based on merit. They also wanted more resources to be allocated to schools with disadvantaged students.

Readers who have been following these issues should not be at all surprised. The success of some charter schools is being cited as evidence. If they can post high test scores and high graduation rates, then why can't all traditional public schools do the same?  It's an unfair question, as I've indicated by the use of italics. But voters mistakenly believe it must be because of the existence of teachers' unions that make it too difficult to fire ineffective teachers.  It matters little that charter schools play by an entirely different set of rules.    

Parents have always had the right to enroll their children in private schools at their own expense. But the Supreme Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris made it clear that public funds can now go to private schools provided they first go to parents.  That is the law of the land.  

California has long been known as a bellwether for the nation. That's why I believe that other polls will show similar results as the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey. I hope I'm wrong because I support public schools.  But times are changing.


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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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