More than four in 10 parents say their kids fell behind academically during the COVID-19 pandemic, when California trailed the country in reopening classrooms to in-person learning, according to a poll released Wednesday.
Now that their kids are back in the classroom, three out four parents support the state’s decision to no longer require masks. But two-thirds of them are OK requiring students to receive COVID-19 vaccines once they’re approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California offers a glimpse of how parents in the Golden State feel state leaders and educators have dealt with the turmoil from the pandemic and the impact it’s had on the state’s 6 million K-12 students.
“I think it’s important to note that there are many people who feel that students suffered and that they’re concerned about the direction of the school system,” said PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare.
California, the first state to impose a statewide stay-home order in 2020, was the slowest to resume in-person instruction a year ago amid growing evidence students were falling behind and suffering mentally and emotionally from prolonged remote online instruction that substituted for in-class teaching.
Parent frustrations helped force Gov. Gavin Newsom to face a recall vote last fall. But he handily defeated it, arguing during the campaign that states that reopened schools faster and declined to mandate face masks and vaccines suffered more COVID-19 deaths in their overall population.
The poll reflected that seeming disconnect, with large numbers of parents and Californians frustrated, but majorities supporting Newsom’s handling of K-12 schools and saying public education is going in the right direction, though those feelings were sharply divided along partisan lines.
Among the findings:
- 44% of parents with school-age children and 46% with kids in public school say their youngest student “has fallen behind academically during the pandemic.” Of those, 19% of parents with school-age children and 20% with kids in public school say their child has fallen behind “a lot.” By the same measure, 53% of parents with school-age children and 54% with public school kids say their child did not fall behind.
- 57% of California adults say the state’s K-12 public education system “is generally going in the right direction,” and 39% in the wrong direction. Though 77% of Democrats say it’s going in the right direction, 79% of Republicans and 51% of independents say it’s going on the wrong direction.
- 42% of California adults think the quality of education in the state’s K–12 public schools has gotten worse, while 13% say it has improved over the past few years.
- 60% of California adults approve and 36% disapprove of the way public education has been handled by Newsom, including 83% of Democrats and 53% of independents approving and 78% of Republicans disapproving.
The poll also found that 62% of California adults and public school parents say teacher salaries are too low. The National Education Association ranks California third among states in average teacher salary at $85,856 and fifth in starting pay at $49,933. New York is tops in average salary at $90,222 and ninth in starting pay, $47,618.
Megan Bacigalupi, executive director of the advocacy group CA Parent Power and a parent whose sons attend school in Oakland Unified School District, helped organize efforts to urge schools to reopen and drop mandates sooner. She said her group’s own survey out this week also shows high concern among parents about students falling behind.
The Parent Power survey found 61% of parents say their child’s education has fallen behind because of school closures, including 23% who say they are “extremely far behind.” It also found parents more divided on state leaders, with 40% having favorable and 49% unfavorable feelings about Newsom. Parent Power’s survey involved 1,242 interviews in California from April 8-13.
“The vast majority of Californians, 80%, and parents of school aged children, 81%, believe that children will be dealing with the consequences of the pandemic for years to come,” Bacigalupi said, “and this presents an opportunity to our statewide leaders, including Governor Newsom, to prioritize the well-being of children in his budget and priorities going forward.”
Baldassare said the PPIC poll results in many ways reflect the recall results in terms of parents and voters holding Newsom to account for their frustrations.
“People who were not with him aren’t with him,” Baldassare said, “and those who were with him are still with him.”
But Baldassare added that the numbers expressing concern should make state leaders uncomfortable with elections around the corner.
“I think when you’ve got numbers of people — it’s not a majority, but quite a few — saying schools or the economy are going in the wrong direction, I think that that suggests that in that kind of environment, people are going to be looking at change as a possibility,” Baldassare said.
The PPIC poll was conducted from March 30-April 13 of 1,591 California adults in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. That included 1,059 likely voters, 424 parents, 342 parents with school-age children and 307 public school parents. The margin of error in percentage points was plus or minus 3.3 for the total sample, 6.1 for parents, 6.9 for parents with school-aged children and 7.2 for public school parents.