Meeting of the minds on education

Only 18 percent of Americans give the nation’s schools an A or a B in two new education polls, Education Next -Program on Education Policy and Governance and Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup.

Only 28 percent of teachers give the nation’s schools an A or B, while 55 percent awarded a C and 17 percent a D or F in the Ed Next-PEPG poll.

However, both surveys found strong support for local schools, even stronger for the schools their children attend. Seventy-seven percent gave an A or B to their oldest child’s school in the PDK/Gallup poll.

Except for school spending and teacher tenure,  differences on education policy are minor and don’t break on party lines, write researchers William G. Howell, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West in Education Next. Support is growing for merit pay and online education.

While 63 percent of the public favor an increase in “government funding for public schools in your district,” only 29 percent support an increase in local taxes to fund local schools.

Support for higher teacher pay has fallen to 59 percent from 69 percent in 2008. Telling respondents the average teacher salary in their state cuts support to 42 percent.

When it comes to school choice, charter schools and online education are “in,” while private school vouchers are “out.” The charter option is especially popular among minorities and parents in neighborhoods where charter schools are already present.

Public school teachers are split on charters with 39 percent supporting charters and 36 percent opposed.

Merit pay is gaining support: 49 percent back “basing a teacher’s salary, in part, on students’ academic progress on state tests,” while 25 percent are opposed.

The public continues to oppose teacher tenure: 47 percent say no, while 27 percent favor tenure.

Seventy-six percent of the public and 63 percent of teachers believe students should have to pass a graduation exam; 79 percent of respondents want students to pass a test before moving on to the next grade, as is now required for third graders in Florida and New York City.

While 57 percent of the public favor releasing a school’s average test scores, only 45 percent of teachers agree. Half of teachers want to keep current testing requirements compared to 62 percent of the general public.

Democrats are more supportive of vouchers and education tax credits than Republicans because of blacks’ strong support for school choice. However, Democrats are more supportive of raising teacher salaries and overall school spending and much more likely to say teachers unions have a positive effect on their community’s schools.

At the height of President Obama’s popularity in 2009, respondents were more likely to support his education policies when told his stand. By 2010, the Obama effect had waned. “Yet public opinion on merit pay, charter schools, and vouchers all shifted closer to the president’s position,” the researchers observe.

The PDK-Gallup Poll shows slipping support for President Obama’s education agenda, reports Ed Week. Just 34 percent give the president an A or B when grading his performance on education during his first 17 months in office.

Most rejected tough turnaround strategies: 54 percent opposed firing the principal or teachers at low-performing schools.

Improving teacher quality is the most important national education strategy, respondents said.

Seventy-one percent of those surveyed said teachers should be paid on the basis of their work, rather than on a standard salary schedule, and 54 percent said a teacher’s salary should be “somewhat closely” tied to the achievement of his or her students.

. . .  When asked what the primary purpose of evaluating teachers should be, 60 percent said to help teachers improve, compared with 26 percent who said it should be used to document ineffectiveness that could lead to dismissal, and 13 percent said evaluations should be used to establish teachers’ salaries based on their skills.

Compared to Ed Next-PEPG, the poll found stronger and growing support for charter schools is growing: 65 percent would back a new public charter schools in their community; 60 percent would support “a large increase” in charter schools nationwide.

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