Photo: Ali Tadayon/EdSource
Barely a week before the coronavirus upended education in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom talks to students at Oakland's Manzanita Community School on March 2, 2020.

At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has completely upended education at all levels, the majority of California voters support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s handling of education issues, according to a just-released EdSource survey.

An even higher proportion support his position on requiring distance learning for counties with a high incidence of Covid-19 infections.

These are among the key findings of an EdSource representative poll of 834 registered voters, conducted online between Aug. 29 and Sept. 7 by the FM3 Research polling firm. The poll was underwritten with support from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation the Hewlett Foundation and the Stuart Foundation.

According to the poll, some 54% approve of Newsom’s handling of education, while 39% disapprove. Parents give Newsom slightly lower ratings, and in fact appear to be divided on their level of support, with 49% expressing approval and 47% disapproval.

Higher-income voters are most positive about Newsom on this measure. Among racial and ethnic groups, he gets the highest rating among African Americans (71%) compared with 58% of whites and 52% of Latinos.

Parents on the whole tend to be positive about how their local school board and school superintendents have handled education challenges.

Voters, however, give slightly lower approval ratings to their local school board (43%), with 30% disapproving, although 27% have no opinion. The high number of voters without opinions presumably reflects the fact that they have little contact with, or knowledge of, how local school officials are doing.

Strong support for Gov. Newsom’s position on distance learning

Newsom gets even stronger support for his executive order issued over the summer requiring distance learning in schools that are located in counties that are on the state’s Covid-19 monitoring list.

Two-thirds of voters (67%) support the governor on the distance learning issue, with 53% strongly supporting him. Only 29% oppose him on the issue.

Much of the support for Newsom is tied to party affiliation and political leanings. Some 93% of Democrats back his executive order on distance learning, compared with 68% of independents and only 20% of Republicans. That level of support is mirrored among voters who describe themselves as liberal or conservative.

In a state that is expected to vote overwhelmingly against President Trump on Nov. 3, two-thirds of voters oppose his repeated calls for children to return to school for in-person instruction, with almost all of those expressing strong opposition.

While a majority of parents express opposition to Trump’s back-to-school appeals, there is less opposition than among voters in general. Some 53% of parents opposed Trump on this issue, while 45% express support. This difference is likely a result of the desire or even urgency that many parents feel about getting their children back to school as soon as it is possible, and certainly as it is safe to do so.

Voters appear to be divided on whether the pandemic should be handled on a local or state level.

Almost half of voters (49%) say local school districts should be the ones to decide if schools will offer in person instruction or adopt distance learning, while 43% say the state government in consultation with state health officials should establish the rules for when schools will be allowed to offer in person instruction.

Voters divided on whether students should be held to same academic standards during pandemic.

This year, in order to receive state funds, public schools are required to keep attendance and cover the academic content as rigorous as what is normally required. Voters in general, along with parents, are divided on whether it is fair for schools to be held to the same standards during a pandemic. Nearly half (46%) of voters say it is fair, as do 53% of parents, while 50% of voters and 46% of parents say it is unfair. There is a partisan split on this issue, with Democrats and independents more likely to say it is unfair than Republicans.

Voters and parents are similarly split on whether students should be held to the same academic standards.

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 for voters and parents, and a chart pack on key findings, go here. 

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

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  1. Brenda Lebsack 1 day ago1 day ago

    Kristi Sharp… You hit the nail on the head… despite what the media report.\ Have we, the people, figured it out yet?

    Those who control the information controls what people think. Accurate, fair and unbiased information is difficult to find. However, there are some, who strive to be objective and present facts (even if it may not make their political side sparkle) and for that I am grateful.

  2. Ruth Young 1 week ago1 week ago

    Is there more recent data available? This poll was conducted between Aug. 29 and Sept. 7. Much has happened since then. I wonder whether parents would still express the same view a month later?

  3. Cathy Hobart 1 week ago1 week ago

    I absolutely don't agree. For some reason, things are getting more political in the decision-making process. Schools need to be able to open based on regional COVID cases, not based on the county COVID cases. We also need to allow schools that are able to reopen safely the chance to do it. If the schools are smaller and it is easier to socially distance, let them reopen. They will need … Read More

    I absolutely don’t agree. For some reason, things are getting more political in the decision-making process. Schools need to be able to open based on regional COVID cases, not based on the county COVID cases. We also need to allow schools that are able to reopen safely the chance to do it. If the schools are smaller and it is easier to socially distance, let them reopen. They will need to share what is working and what isn’t. This information can be helpful for other schools. We also need to be finding “outside the box” options for schools that find it difficult to social distance. The conversation doesn’t seem to be happening. It doesn’t seem like anyone is really in charge.

  4. Kristy Sharp 1 week ago1 week ago

    The parent’s comment about your zip code mattering is so true. The schools in Montecito, OC, wealthy areas of San Diego all opened up as soon as they could, and despite what the media reports, are doing great.

  5. Betsy Pillsbury 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    No due respect for Gov. Newsom at all in regards to education! He is so far removed from the actual real-life problems educators, students and parents are facing! He’s done nothing good for public education during COVID-19. To be honest what he’s done is by far the worst thing anyone has done to the 9 million children living in CA. If people do not understand what the repercussions a world-wide pandemic have for … Read More

    No due respect for Gov. Newsom at all in regards to education! He is so far removed from the actual real-life problems educators, students and parents are facing! He’s done nothing good for public education during COVID-19. To be honest what he’s done is by far the worst thing anyone has done to the 9 million children living in CA. If people do not understand what the repercussions a world-wide pandemic have for children and their future, they should probably get out of office – and fast! Love, a voting democrat!

  6. Jeannie Karlitz 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    That is a very small sample. I do not know of one parent in Southern California who thinks that remote learning is “rigorous” as the Governor promised. The inequity is apparent and students’ are suffering mentally, emotionally and academically. Schools can easily open safely but the LA Teachers Union is acting as a political lobbyist for Prop 15. They will not open. The real story is about the unions.

  7. Allan Miller 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    In all due respect, I'd hardly call 834 survey participants a valid sample size. We received over 5,000 COVID-19 stakeholders surveys for our small, rural school district. The bottom line is Governor Newsom's approach to this pandemic, especially regarding school reopening has been a dereliction of duty. In my opinion, the changing of the rules for reopening and the disregard for local variance is extremely detrimental on a number of fronts. As a state, we … Read More

    In all due respect, I’d hardly call 834 survey participants a valid sample size. We received over 5,000 COVID-19 stakeholders surveys for our small, rural school district. The bottom line is Governor Newsom’s approach to this pandemic, especially regarding school reopening has been a dereliction of duty. In my opinion, the changing of the rules for reopening and the disregard for local variance is extremely detrimental on a number of fronts. As a state, we will be paying for the increased learning loss of our students for years to come.