Aug 17, 2011 – Americans admire and respect public school teachers more than ever.
Despite films like Waiting For ‘Superman’ and attacks from public school foes, despite negative national headlines, budget cuts, and economic turmoil, Americans’ respect for public school teachers is strong and growing stronger.
That’s according to the 2011 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.
The poll was released August 17, 2011. Phi Delta Kappa (PDK), a global association of education professionals, has conducted the poll in conjunction with Gallup since 1969. This year’s poll was based on conversations with 1002 respondents.
The poll shows that Americans respect the teaching profession, support investments in education, and reject tax-funded vouchers for private school tuition, although they do support school choice within the public school system.
Trust & confidence
The poll shows more than 70% of Americans say they have “trust and confidence” in the men and women who are teaching.
69% give teachers in their specific community a letter grade of an A or B, up from 50% in 1984.
“Americans’ strong support for teachers and public schools is all the more heartening given that more than two-thirds of respondents say they hear more bad news about education than good news,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.”
The poll also shows Americans think more highly of teachers than they do of principals and school board members.
However, the poll shows a disconnect between Americans’ opinions of teachers and their opinions of teachers’ unions. Americans are considerably less supportive of the latter. (No surprise, given nationally orchestrated efforts to denigrate unions of all kinds.)
But when asked about the attacks by some governors (such as in Wisconsin) on teachers’ collective bargaining rights, more than half of Americans side with teacher union leaders over governors.
The poll question “asks about general opinions on teacher unions, framed in a way that implies union work is limited to narrow issues of compensation and working conditions,” Weingarten said.
The wording doesn’t reflect the hard work being done by AFT, NEA, and state affiliates such as MEA-MFT to improve education for all students.
Nevertheless, the poll demonstrates that teachers’ unions need to do a better job of getting the word out about their innovative efforts to improve school quality.
High regard for teaching profession
Although the results reveal some ambivalence about the direction of education policy in the United States, Americans hold the teaching profession in high regard.
Three out of four Americans would encourage the brightest person they know to become an educator.
67% also said they would like to have a child of theirs choose a public-school teaching career, and 76% believe the country should be actively recruiting the highest-achieving high school students into a career in education.
44% of Americans believe the most important national education program should be improving the quality of teaching. Developing demanding standards and creating better tests were rated significantly lower.
As has been the case in previous polls, Americans give far higher grades to their local
schools than to the nation’s schools. That’s because people are familiar with their local schools, according to PDK/Gallup researchers, and their opinion of the nation’s schools is driven by national news, which reflects poor opinions of No Child Left Behind.
Other key findings in the poll:
• 36% of Americans believe that lack of financial support is the biggest problem facing schools.
• Overwhelmingly, Americans favor keeping a poorly performing school in their community open with existing teachers and principals, while providing comprehensive outside support. (In other words, they reject a major tenet of No Child Left Behind.)
• Support for charter school is increasing, with 68% viewing charters favorably.
• Support for vouchers is declining. Only-one-third of respondents approve of using public money for private schools.
• 41% give President Obama a letter grade of an A or a B for his support of public schools, close to what he received his first year in office.