Education Up Front

July 17, 2002

August 14, 2002

September 4, 2002

Voters like choice in schools

We have spent so much time asking how children are performing in our schools that it was interesting to see the results of a poll conducted earlier this year about how voters think the schools themselves are performing.

The results were not positive.

The statewide poll of 650 registered voters, commissioned by the California Network of Educational Charters (CANEC), found that they place a high priority on education. But, they also said they are dissatisfied with the current state of public schools and want greater public school choice, more local control, and for public schools to embrace competition.

The findings, which were prevalent across party, ideological, ethnic, and geographic boundaries, included the following observations:

  • Only four percent think our public schools are OK and that no reform is needed while 56 percent think the system either needs major reform or a total overhaul. Some 73 percent nearly three out of four respondents believe that "kids graduating without the necessary skills" is an extremely or very serious problem in the state's public schools. (One must wonder what the other 27 percent think will happen to students graduating without basic educational skills.)

  • By a margin of more than two to one, voters surveyed think that public education can best be reformed by giving parents the freedom to choose a public school that is best suited to the needs of their children, over giving the governor and state legislature more support to implement reforms from Sacramento. When told that if a regular public school is not working for a child, they can enroll him in a charter school, 73 percent said they had a favorable opinion about charter schools, vs. eight percent who saw charters as a negative.

  • By a four-to-one margin, the voters surveyed said they believe that if public schools competed for students, the overall system would improve, rather than decline.

  • Ninety percent of those surveyed believe teachers deserve more

    flexibility to design and deliver programs that work best for their


  • Some 58 percent of voters in the survey said they had more confidence in local communities determining and setting curriculum, vs. 36 percent who see the state as being better equipped to do this. Minority voters expressed strong perspectives on the current state of public schools, as well as methods of reform, compared to their white counterparts.

  • African-American voters expressed the most pressing desire for major reform with 63 percent believing that either major reform or a total overhaul is needed.

  • Some 71 percent of African-American voters and 82 percent of Latinos surveyed ranked expanded choices for parents as extremely or very important, compared to 65 percent of white respondents.

  • Nine out of 10 African-American respondents and nearly eight out of 10 Latinos surveyed ranked teacher flexibility as being extremely important, compared to 69 percent of white voters taking part in the survey.

  • Far more African-American and Latino respondents than whites said competition among schools for students would improve the entire system -- 73 percent, 69 percent and 58 percent, respectively.

    The study showed that not all voters were familiar with charter schools and how they function. When provided a brief description of charters, however, support for the concept was substantial -- 72 percent indicating they support them, 13 percent opposing them, and 15 percent remaining unsure. The entire questionnaire used is at

    While the survey was interesting, it did not tell us anything we did not already know or suspect here in San Diego County about the need for adequate choice in schools. What was of interest was the extent of the public's growing concern about the quality of public schools.

    Our county has always been at the forefront of the charter school movement. With 57 charters, educating 35,000 students, we have one of the highest concentrations of charter schools in the nation. The Business Roundtable has been instrumental in starting four charters in San Diego Unified and through our Charter School Consortium; it is committed to supporting quality charters as models for educational change.

    Meanwhile, as a service to San Diego's existing charters, the consortium is conducting a Charter School Conference on Oct. 8 where the schools will convene to talk about the latest legislative issues, share ideas and best practices, and create systems of academic accountability.

    Accountability is a critical issue for both traditional and charter public schools. For example, the La Jolla-based Girard Foundation has funded the consortium for the creation of a longitudinal matched data accountability system that charter schools can model for traditional schools to give immediate feedback to teachers about each student to create greater opportunities for increased learning.

    As charter schools grow and mature, we are seeing, through them, models for educational reform that already are making a difference for kids. These models would not be possible without the element of choice in our public schools giving parents the option to send their children to a charter school that best meets their child's needs.

    Voters statewide may not know that much about charter schools per se, but they do know and like some of the reforms and measures charter schools have been uniquely equipped to make happen. Visit and click on charter schools for more information about Charter Schools in San Diego and let me know what you think.

    Hovenic, Ed.D, is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation and executive director of the foundation's Business Roundtable for Education. Her e-mail is

  • July 17, 2002

    August 14, 2002

    September 4, 2002