View all latest


EdSource presents a weekly discussion of news, politics and analysis from the world of California education.

New podcast episode: This Week in California Education

With cameras running, an Orange County high school reopens; principals answer the call

October 16, 2020 - An Orange County principal explains how his high school met multiple challenges to reopen; UCLA Prof. John Rogers on principals' unheralded responses to Covid-19.
View More


As most public and private school students in California continue to study from home, distance learning gets a definite thumbs down from the state’s registered voters, including parents, according to a new EdSource poll.

A majority of voters as well as parents feel that the state’s schools in general are not prepared to offer high quality distance learning, although they are more positive about their own local schools.

Parents worry that if children are at home for the rest of the year it will result in learning loss for all students, but especially for the most economically vulnerable who suffer from hunger or housing insecurity. Low income parents in particular worry that prolonged distance learning will mean they won’t be able to get back to work.

These are among the key findings of an EdSource survey of 834 registered voters. The representative poll was conducted online between Aug. 29 and Sept. 7 by the FM3 Research polling firm.

The poll was conducted just as distance learning was getting under way, so parents’ views may change as more of them have direct experience with remote instruction for a prolonged period during the coming months.

One major issue that has emerged since the pandemic upended education nationwide is how to motivate children and keep them coming back day after day when they aren’t in the classroom, and don’t have direct contact with teachers. Those concerns are shared by parents, who say the biggest challenge of distance learning is sustaining their children’s interest and motivation to study. Parents also worry about insufficient instructional time with a teacher, and say it is hard for children to work on their own, as well as understand assignments.

Levels of dissatisfaction related to the pandemic run so deep that one in four say they are considering moving their children to a private, parochial or charter school.

Voters say schools unprepared for distance learning, although parents more positive

Just over half of parents (54%) feel that California schools in general are somewhat or very unprepared to offer distance learning, while 41% said they were prepared. That mirrors exactly the proportion of voters in general who held similar views.

However, parents are slightly more positive than voters in general about the preparedness of their local schools. About half of parents (50%) say they feel their schools are prepared to offer high-quality distance learning, compared with 40% who feel they are unprepared.

Dissatisfaction with distance learning 

Fully 75% of registered voters, including parents, say that distance learning is worse than in class instruction. Only 2% say it is better.


Views shaped by experience with distance learning last spring

A major reason parents hold such a dim view of distance learning stems from their experience with distance learning in the spring, when distance learning was sprung on districts on short notice. Just over half of parents (55%) rate their child’s experience with distance learning in the spring as “not too effective” (27%) or “not at all effective” (27%). Only 7% rate it as “very effective.”

In fact, one third of parents couldn’t cite anything positive about their experience with distance learning in the spring.

When asked to rate what went really well, 7% cite excellent teaching. Another 7% cite having a safe and comfortable environment to access instruction. A similarly small percentage of parents (7%) say teachers and staff staying in close touch with parents was a positive aspect of distance learning.

Challenges managing distance learning

As they brace for most children being at home this fall, the majority of parents say it will be difficult for them to manage distance learning for their child this year. Well over half (58%) say it will be difficult, while 39% say it will be easy.

Over 70% worry about learning loss for all or most children, as well as the lack of social interaction with other children. Their greatest concern (80%) is the impact of learning loss on vulnerable children, including those experiencing hunger, homelessness or upheaval at home.

When asked to identify what they view as the major challenge their child or their family face in adjusting to a distance learning regimen, parents list a series of concerns all related to engaging students and keeping them motivated.

Seventy-nine percent of parents say keeping children motivated and a similar proportion point to sustaining their interest as their biggest challenges. The next biggest challenge (74%) is not getting enough instructional time with their teachers, followed by the difficulty of working on their own.

Most have access to broadband and devices, but significant minority don’t. 

A major concern in the state and nationally has been to ensure that students have both computers or other devices to access distance learning at home, along with adequate broadband access. There has been a massive push by the state as well as individual districts to provide parents and students with what they need to participate in distance learning.

Strong majorities on the EdSource poll say that unreliable internet access is not a challenge (57%), nor is an inadequate device (69%). However, a substantial number of children still don’t have what they need to fully participate in distance learning. Just over 1 in 10 (11%) say that unreliable internet access is a major challenge, while 31% percent say that it is a minor challenge. Similarly, 11% say inadequate devices is a “major challenge,” compared to 19% who say it is a minor challenge.

Concerns about adequate devices and unreliable internet access are greatest among low and middle income parents. Over half (54%) of parents with incomes under $60,000 cite internet access as a problem, compared with 37% of families with earnings over $150,000. 

Small number of parents embrace “learning pods” to help children with distance learning

When asked about strategies they might use to help manage distance learning, for the most part parents seem stumped as to what to do.

Nearly half of parents (43%) say they don’t know of strategies to help their children. However, the most popular affirmative response is to enlist the help of other family members to supervise distance learning.

This video was produced by NBC 7 San Diego, and is published here courtesy of the station.

Only a small proportion of parents (15%) say they would consider forming “learning pods,” also referred to as “pandemic pods.” These are typically small groups of students organized and paid for by parents. These pods can be organized in different ways, but generally children might meet in a socially distanced, safe location, and be supervised by a teacher, a tutor or parents themselves while they are working online. Fifteen percent of parents also say they might hire a tutor or teacher to supplement their child’s distance learning.

One criticism of pods is that they are likely available only to more affluent families, and that they will contribute to widening achievement gaps, which many educators already feared would be exacerbated as a result of distance learning.

Those concerns are shared by the majority of parents. About 51% say they are very concerned or extremely concerned, while 43% of all voters say they are somewhat concerned or not concerned that pods could widen achievement gaps between higher income and low-income families.

Levels of concern vary considerably depending on the income levels of families, however. Concern is greatest among low-income families (67% of families earning between $30,000 and $60,000 annually say they are very or extremely concerned) and is the lowest (45%) among families earning more than $150,000.

Some families consider changing schools or moving

One in four parents (24%) say they are considering moving their child from public school to a private, parochial or charter school as a result of pandemic related issues.

The backgrounds of parents indicating their desire to change schools varies considerably by political affiliation. Only 8% of Democrats say they are considering moving, compared with 24% of independents and 46% of Republicans.

A similar percentage (22%) said they would consider moving entirely to access different school options.

The sample in the poll included 634 registered voters statewide and an additional 200 voters who are parents or guardians of a child under age 19. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is +/-3.5% at the 95% confidence level, and +/-5.7% for the parent sample. 

For reports on other aspects of the poll, the full topline results and a chart pack on key findings, go here. 

California voters, including parents, have deep concerns about distance learning

California’s 116 community colleges should prioritize increasing diversity in their faculty to create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment, leaders from across the community college system said Tuesday.

During a webinar Tuesday hosted by EdSource and UC Davis’s Wheelhouse center, student, faculty and administrative leaders said community colleges can do more to improve hiring, recruitment and retention of diverse faculty. 

California’s community college system serves a diverse student body. While 51% of the 2 million students in the system identify as Black, Latino, Native American or Pacific Islander, just 21% of tenured faculty across the colleges are from one of those underrepresented groups, according to a report from the systemwide chancellor’s office.

Edward Bush, president of Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, noted that it’s possible that any student can complete their entire community college education without ever having a Black or Latino professor.

“The only thing that is stopping us from hiring more faculty is the will to do so,” he said. “As college leaders, we have to say that this is the issue we are tackling as a college and center it as part of our priority.”

The hiring process could become more equitable if voters in California approve Proposition 16 this November, panelists said. Proposition 16 would repeal Proposition 209, which prohibits the consideration of race, gender or ethnicity in admission and hiring decisions at California’s public colleges and universities.

On Tuesday, the nonprofit Education Trust-West published a research brief that found that the ban on affirmative action in California has been detrimental to equity in the state’s community colleges. “Restoring affirmative action will allow policies to be intentionally designed and implemented in ways that acknowledge structural forms of racism that marginalize people of color,” the research brief said.

Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, said during Tuesday’s webinar that Proposition 16 could be a “game-changer” for the community college system.

“You can bring in gender and race as a plus factor,” Rodriguez said. “That will ultimately lead to greater diversity and equity in our hiring practices. I think this is more than symbolic. … This could be a game-changer for us if we implement it in such a way where diversity, equity, race, gender is value-added to the educational enterprise.”

Daisy Gonzales, deputy chancellor of the entire community college system, pointed out that faculty diversity is directly tied to student success, saying that students who have diverse teachers and staff are “better prepared for leadership, citizenship and professional competitiveness.”

Gonzales said colleges should reassess their standards for recruitment. She noted that under California’s education code, one of the requirements for a faculty member in the community college system is whether they can teach a diverse workforce.

“How are we assessing that? In some of our campuses, they are asked as a yes or no question,” Gonzales said. “… Our really progressive, equity minded campuses, they’re asking that question not just as a yes or no, but what has been the impact? What are the outcomes? And how did you serve a diverse population?” 

Panelists also said that students should be more involved in the hiring process.

Gerardo Chavez, a student at Riverside City College, said he has been in the community college system since 2016 and has had only two professors who were people of color. 

Chavez suggested including students like himself on faculty hiring committees, something he said is not currently a common practice at Riverside City College. “As a Latinx student, if I have the ability to determine who is going to be hired in my college, then we’d be able to see people who look like me,” Chavez said. 

Jeffrey Hernandez, president of the Academic Senate at East LA College and a professor of political science at that college, said during Tuesday’s webinar that he likes “the idea of students on the committee” and wants to encourage that in the future.

He added that the Academic Senate at East LA College is currently working with the college’s administration to determine where diversification of the faculty is most needed. “Our follow-up will be to promote training for particular departments,” he said. 

It is also important to be able to retain diverse faculty once they are hired, panelists noted. Bush, the president of Cosumnes River College, said his college tries to boost retention by assigning a mentor to every faculty member.

“And we take that process really seriously. Our faculty leaders … increasingly put emphasis on making sure faculty are mentored,” he said. “We have events where they come together and talk and share. That sense of belonging that we say matters to the students, it also matters in how we onboard new faculty.”

California’s community colleges address student-faculty diversity gap

This video, “Education during Covid: California families struggle to learn,” is part of a continuing project by EdSource on how California families are struggling with learning during the Covid crisis. It includes photos and videos contributed by participating families.

Education during Covid: California families struggle to learn [VIDEO]

View More

Featured Section