Survey in L.A. Special Election District Shows Sharp Schism Between English- and Spanish-Speaking Parents
This article was produced in partnership with LA School Report
Parents whose children attend schools in the L.A. Unified district, where voters will go to the polls in Tuesday’s special election, hold widely varying views of their schools depending on the language they speak at home, according to a new survey.
Nearly half of all Spanish-speaking respondents said their child’s school in Board District 5 was on the wrong track. They also were three times as likely to say they had difficulty getting help for their children.
English speakers were far more positive about their schools. Those respondents were 14 times as likely to say their school was headed in a positive direction. Among English speakers, 86 percent said their schools were on the right track, and the same percentage said it was not difficult to get help for their children.
Overall, only 28 percent of all respondents said their child’s school is generally headed in the right direction; 35 percent said it was on the wrong track. Voters in what’s known as BD5 cast their ballots Tuesday to fill a vacant school board seat. Turnout is expected to be especially low, and voters in the white, wealthier, and older part of the district are expected to dominate.
The survey was conducted by Alliance for a Better Community, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Latinos in Los Angeles. It asked parents and constituents in Board District 5 about their educational priorities and also held focus groups. The group released the results at a February candidate forum.
Here are six things to know about the survey’s results:
1 All issues were high priorities.
Parents’ top priorities for their children’s schools were quality of teaching and safe and welcoming schools. Both received 86 percent of respondents listing them first.
Special education supports and facilities tied for second place. College access and readiness came in third.
The survey’s authors noted that the majority of respondents said all 16 issues listed in the survey were a high priority. Even the lowest-scoring of the issues — support for LGBTQ students — received 59 percent of respondents saying it was a high priority.
Spanish-speaking respondents put a higher priority on supports for English language learners, the budget deficit, and equitable school funding.
Among all respondents, equitable school funding and the budget deficit came in ahead of parent engagement and student and staff attendance.
2 There’s a big difference in school perceptions depending on respondents’ home language.
There was a marked difference between how English and Spanish speakers saw their schools.
When asked, “Would you say your child’s school is generally headed in the right direction, or do you feel it is on the wrong track?,” 86 percent of English speakers said it was headed in the right direction, compared with only 6 percent of Spanish speakers.
Almost half of Spanish speakers — 49 percent — said their school was on the wrong track. Only 1 percent of English speakers thought so.
When asked if it is “difficult for you to obtain help for your child from your school and/or the district,” 43 percent of Spanish speakers said yes, compared with only 14 percent of English speakers. Among English speakers, 86 percent said it was not difficult to obtain help, compared with 57 percent of Spanish speakers.
3 Their board member should speak Spanish.
One of the top three most important characteristics in a board member is that he or she speaks Spanish, the survey found.
A vast majority of respondents, 84 percent, said it is important to have a board member who speaks Spanish, but only 48 percent thought that person has to be Latino/a or have a Latino background. And 90 percent said their board member should have “a professional background in education.”
4 They’re big on bilingual education.
More than 90 percent of respondents supported each of five statements about bilingual education and support for English learners, such as saying schools should value the native language and culture of every child, and that every teacher should be trained to meet the needs of English learners.
Respondents also wanted graduates to be bilingual.
When asked, “How valuable do you think it is that students can graduate high school being able to speak more than one language?,” 73 percent said it was very valuable, while 17 percent said it was fairly valuable. No respondents answered that it was not valuable at all, and 2 percent said it was a little valuable; 8 percent were unsure.
5 Teachers don’t get enough support.
A majority said teachers are not strongly supported in Board District 5.
When asked, “Do you feel that teachers are supported at your school?,” less than 30 percent said they are strongly supported, and 23 percent said teachers are a little supported. About 29 percent said they are fairly supported. Less than 4 percent said teachers are not supported at all.
6 There’s not enough support for English learners and special ed.
The groups of students who respondents said are the least adequately supported were special education students (22 percent), English language learners (17 percent), and those experiencing homelessness (14 percent).
However, English learners also had the highest percentage of “yes” answers to the question of which student groups are “adequately supported at your school” — 58 percent. The next-highest were low-income students, with 53 percent. Tied for third, with 49 percent answering yes, were special education students and gifted students. The student group with the fewest “yes” answers was LGBTQ students — only 30 percent of respondents said these students are adequately supported.
About the survey:
Alliance for a Better Community collected 452 surveys from more than 30 schools and conducted focus groups with 75 parents and students between December and February. Of the respondents, 85 percent identified as Latino or Hispanic, and 56 percent said their home language was Spanish. Six percent of respondents said they were white, and 26 percent said English was their home language. Both languages were the home language for 16 percent of respondents. The rest — 2 percent — said their home language was Tagalog.
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