LOS ANGELES — The University of Southern California Rossier School of Education published its annual poll Tuesday of parents and voters on a range of education issues, including threats of gun violence, college affordability and book censorship.
The five-author poll, including 2,000 California voters, dug into other subjects, like teacher shortages, gathering input from a cross-section of respondents, including 500 with students under 18 years old.
Funding for the poll included money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
While the poll covered many topics, guns were at the top of the list.
“For the fourth consecutive year, ‘reducing gun violence in schools’ was the top-rated education issue for California’s voters. When presented with an array of policy proposals that schools might pursue to address the risks of gun violence, voters expressed the most support for policies that would require more reporting about potential threats as well as a wide range of ‘school hardening’ policies,” the authors wrote.
“School hardening” tends to mean added security like an increase in metal detectors, which 77% of respondents supported while 70% felt “additional armed security” was needed.
Public education, and what’s included in the curriculum, has long been a lightning rod for controversy, with topics like sexual education and evolution inspiring argument and protest. COVID-19 has brought new controversies, serving as a vehicle for political discourse and outrage.
According to the poll, more than 68% said “public education is under attack in the United States.” Still, 85% showed support for the public education system, agreeing that a strong school system is essential for an effective democracy. Many parents, 69%, said they felt curriculums should do a better job of meeting parents’ preferences.
Parents and educators have also been deeply concerned with learning losses among students during the pandemic. While some students thrived during distance learning, many educators feel students, especially those in key development stages like early reading, were months behind.
Fears over the delays in learning have triggered California and federal legislators to inundate the schools system with billions of dollars in an effort to catch up students hurt by the pandemic.
“California’s voters reported strong concerns over the pandemic’s impact on students’ emotional and mental health, about students falling behind academically, and about the unequal impact of the pandemic on students of different economic and racial/ethnic background,” the poll said.
Many of those fears included contracting COVID-19, as some parents weren’t willing to send their students back to school without a vaccine. Since the pandemic began in 2020, school enrollment has dipped.
Over 25% of responding parents switched their child’s school during the pandemic, the poll said. Parents wanted a different educational experience for their kids, with about 31% moving their students into charter schools.
Voters also expressed concerns about funding, despite the unprecedented influx of cash into schools. According to the poll, 40% of voters called funding a top concern.
The authors ended the poll with a final word about policy.
“California’s leaders must also commit to strengthening systems to ensure quality in all schools, in every district, and for every student,” the authors wrote.