Why were San Diego taxpayers asked in a telephone poll to grade teachers on their teaching? Dr. Gerald Rosander, Superintendent of County Schools, explained why he wanted to take the trouble to find out how well the schools were serving the community:
''If citizens aren't sold on public schools, eventually private schools will flourish while public schools become ghetto schools. Many parents will sacrifice to send their children where they feel the environment is good and academics are the strongest.''
The San Diego survey was patterned after the annual ''National Gallup Poll of Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.''
Of the 1,500 people polled, 42 percent awarded public education in San Diego an A or B grade, while only 13 percent rated it D or F.
As a result, Dr. Rosander felt he needed to move in two directions:
* To publicize unrecognized achievements in the public schools.
* To strengthen the weaknesses pinpointed by the poll.
San Diego's poll agreed with the national poll that people feel the major problem facing the public schools is lack of discipline (San Diego 26 percent; Gallup 23 percent). Tied as second in importance in San Diego (11 percent) are two major problems: lack of proper financial support and the students' home environment.
In the Gallup poll the use of drugs was second (15 percent), and poor curriculum-poor standards (14 percent) came in third.
In the national poll only some 30 percent were in favor of more taxes to improve public schools, while San Diego's poll showed 44 percent agreeing to a tax increase.
Both the national and the county polls indicated that not enough attention is given to six educational objectives in high schools:
* Teaching students to think.
* Developing student's moral and ethical character.
* Preparing students who do not go to college for jobs or careers.
* Preparing students to be informed citizens.
* Developing student's appreciation for art, music, and culture.
* Preparing students for college.
Since enrollment has increased in nonpublic schools in San Diego County, the poll attempted to discover why. The following reasons, in ranked order, emerged:
* Poor educational standards in public schools.
* More discipline in nonpublic schools.
* Integration, forced busing, racial problems.
* More attention to religion in nonpublic schools.
* Too many drugs and alcohol problems in public schools.
An obvious question was posed by this reporter, ''Is San Diego's public education as good as private?''
Dr. Rosander answered, ''Public education is being attacked more vigorously than at any time in the last 100 years, and we need to respond with the facts.''
And he explained further that one use he makes of the findings from the San Diego poll is to reassure the community through his local TV programs and at both public and school-related meetings.
San Diego County schools, with more than 494,000 students, work hard to keep the public informed. They use the schools' own microwave network to deliver programs to 410 schools and 350,000 cable TV homes; hold regional spelling bees, which include private-school pupils; and celebrate May Day with a park festival of art, drama, and music for more than 44,000 people.
As a final comment, Dr. Rosander remarked, ''In today's climate we need to look for ways to collectively improve our public schools, not to tear them down.''