Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education
Sixth graders work together on a science project.

Over a quarter of California parents moved their children to a new school during the pandemic, with most saying they wanted a different experience for their child, were dissatisfied with Covid protocols and learning and mental health supports.

Charter schools got the biggest increase in students, with 23% of parents reporting their children in such schools after the switch, compared to only 15% before the switch. Parents were more likely to live in the Los Angeles area, followed by the Central Valley and the Bay Area. The poll also shows an increase of 4 percentage points in parents who switched their children to home schooling.

An additional 28% of parents who are now considering switching their child’s school are more likely to cite dissatisfaction with the quality of instruction at their children’s school.

The poll, conducted annually by Policy Analysis for California (PACE) and the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, assesses current threats to public education. Its inquiry into switching schools was an attempt to understand what contributed to the sharp decline in enrollment during the pandemic that included a record 2.6% drop in 2020-21 and a 1.8% drop last year.

The poll, which was conducted in July, found that traditional public schools saw the biggest decline among the 28% of parents who reported switching schools. Of those, about half started in a traditional school, but only 41% ended up in one. The ranks of home-schoolers also swelled from 3% to 7%.

The poll did not specifically ask why respondents switched to charter schools or what kind of charter school they switched to. The poll found that support for charter schools increased 8 points from 2020 to 2022.

Julie Marsh, a professor of education policy at the USC Rossier School of Education and author of the report, said the reasons that parents cited for switching schools provide some insight into why families switched: 38% wanted a different educational experience for their children, 31% expressed dissatisfaction with Covid-19 safety measures at their school and 30% were dissatisfied with the individual support their child was receiving.

“You just have to make an assumption that the charter schools had more favorable Covid policies and were providing what parents saw as better education for their kids,” Marsh said.

Those most likely to cite dissatisfaction with Covid measures were higher-income families (47%) and parents in Los Angeles County (39%).

The poll surveyed 2,000 registered California voters in English and Spanish online, including an oversample of 500 parents with children under the age of 18 living at home. The margin of error for the entire survey is estimated to be plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.”

The survey also probed the California voters on other “serious threats” to public education, including the politicization of education, controversy over curriculum, student well-being, teacher shortages and college affordability. For the fourth year in a row, the top-ranked education issue was reducing gun violence in schools.

The parents most likely to report changing schools reported income of over $150,000 (38%), were white (30%), Democratic (30%) and speak English as their primary language (27%). They were more likely to live in Los Angeles (33%) or Sacramento/North Counties (31%) than San Diego (19%) or the Central Valley (22%).

Those least likely to report changing schools were Asian American (12%) and those who speak English as a second language (15%).

Many families moved during the pandemic: 28% reported switching schools for that reason. The report on the poll also notes that many California families who moved during the pandemic were not captured by the survey since they no longer live in California.

Marsh said that even though the report deals with some serious issues, California voters surveyed still give public education high marks.

“The grades that they’re giving schools is pretty high. It’s not all gloom and doom,” said Marsh. “There’s a lot of positive in here.”

Over 68% of respondents said public education is under attack in the country, but 85% agreed that the country “cannot have an effective democracy without good public education.” Most voters expressed support for locally elected school boards. The poll found strong voter support (64%) for spending more time teaching grade-appropriate lessons about the causes and consequences of racism and inequality. A similar number of respondents support California’s recent ethnic studies requirement, which requires that students take an ethnic studies course to graduate high school. A majority of parents agreed that parents should be able to opt out of books assigned by teachers if they think the content is inappropriate.

Voters ranked college affordability as the second-most important educational issue, with 57% of parents expressing concern. Black parents were most likely to be concerned (75%), compared with Latinx parents (63%), Asian American parents (52%) and white parents (51%). However, 92% still consider college to be a good investment in their child’s future.

California’s voters strongly support “school hardening” measures such as installing metal detectors (77%), hiring armed security (70%) and limiting entryways (69%). They also strongly support gun policies that don’t involve schools, such as expanding public support for mental health.

Voters expressed concern about the funding and stability of the school system. Despite recent federal and state investments, 40% of voters and 50% of parents say improving school funding is a top concern. Parents are also becoming increasingly concerned about teacher shortages, which have become more acute during the pandemic. This year, 43% of voters rated the teacher shortage at the top of their educational concerns. Voters earning less than $35,000 were more likely to report it as a top priority (54%).

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  1. Educator 1 month ago1 month ago

    None of this is surprising. Charter schools were created to innovate and in the face of the pandemic, many did just that. It is frustrating that the Establishment's response is to continue supporting anti-charter legislation, stacking local/county school boards with opponents who wish to close charter schools, and increasing bureaucratic requirements on these schools. California parents are unfortunately none the wiser. Hopefully, this election will be a wake up call and the Establishment Bureaucrats will … Read More

    None of this is surprising. Charter schools were created to innovate and in the face of the pandemic, many did just that. It is frustrating that the Establishment’s response is to continue supporting anti-charter legislation, stacking local/county school boards with opponents who wish to close charter schools, and increasing bureaucratic requirements on these schools. California parents are unfortunately none the wiser. Hopefully, this election will be a wake up call and the Establishment Bureaucrats will be shown the door. We have to do better for our students.

    Replies

    • JudiAU 1 month ago1 month ago

      Just out of curiosity what charter schools performed in an innovative way and how did they did so? Because ours certainly did not and it is generally considered among the best.

  2. Ingrid 1 month ago1 month ago

    It is interesting to see how the parents feel about charter schools vs. the Teachers Union and other anti-charter groups. School Choice should always be an option.

  3. Cintya I Molina 1 month ago1 month ago

    Again, a complete absence of a disability analysis in an issue where disability features very prominently, especially during the pandemic when a lot of the supports for disabled students fell apart and even disappeared completely, EdSource has an abysmally bad record at disaggregating for disability. I know because I read and skim for it in a lot of what you write, especially when you highlight equity concerns and in the issue of what people … Read More

    Again, a complete absence of a disability analysis in an issue where disability features very prominently, especially during the pandemic when a lot of the supports for disabled students fell apart and even disappeared completely,

    EdSource has an abysmally bad record at disaggregating for disability. I know because I read and skim for it in a lot of what you write, especially when you highlight equity concerns and in the issue of what people like to call “school choice.” (We in the disability community are not the demographic to which the “choice” proponents market, or for whom they design and plan.) Providing this disability analysis would also require showing different disability experiences, levels of need for support, and intersection of disability with other experiences like race.

    I have commented on this often and have lost confidence in your desire as a publication to address it.

  4. Rebecca Garcia 1 month ago1 month ago

    Overgeneralizations from a study that looks like it’s oversampled white parents in LA county. EdSource just published an article a few weeks ago that showed charter schools are seeing historic declines in enrollment as well. Not when you cherry pick the parents though.

  5. JudiAU 1 month ago1 month ago

    We had kids enrolled in both district LAUSD and charter schools during distance learning. The charter schools was 0% more innovative and largely defaulted to what the school district chose to do. Three days after the district policy was announced. They also used the opportunity to pressure parents for more money even through the received both PPE and additional state and federal funding. They also used it to end any differentiation in the classroom … Read More

    We had kids enrolled in both district LAUSD and charter schools during distance learning. The charter schools was 0% more innovative and largely defaulted to what the school district chose to do. Three days after the district policy was announced. They also used the opportunity to pressure parents for more money even through the received both PPE and additional state and federal funding. They also used it to end any differentiation in the classroom and have not restored it.

    To be fair, our other kids are in a specialty LAUSD program and were held to a high standard compared to some general Ed classes.

  6. Jim 1 month ago1 month ago

    In my experience parents move their children from LAUSD largely due to a perceived lack of discipline. The data point that would be more interesting is to see what the capacity of charter schools is currently. Previously there was a significant wait list for many of them and if the charters did not have additional capacity that would skew the preference share.

    Replies

    • Lita F 1 month ago1 month ago

      According to LAUSD’s charter school division, which reported maybe 2 or so years ago, the majority of LAUSD authorized charter schools were significantly under enrolled. Of course the top performing charter’s will have waitlists but that is no different than the top performing traditional public schools.