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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  1. I wonder if opinions about “tenure” would change if it were clear that public school teachers do not have the same protections that “tenure” implies in higher education. It would also help if the public were clearer on the fact that the many of the challenges in removing ineffective teachers stem from the overworked or ineffective administrators lack either the time or training to conduct proper evaluations. Unions come out looking bad to the public because they uphold all the provisions of the contract, and administrators sometimes don’t, (or perhaps can’t). Randy Ward, former supt. in Oakland and San Diego, once wisely commented to John Merrow that he didn’t blame unions for these problems: if their upholding of contracts presents a problem, the solution is to change the contract, not to expect unions to just cut the district some slack, look the other way, etc. Negotiate the necessary changes. Teachers don’t want to work with ineffective colleagues, but we want protection from being arbitrarily labeled as such when there’s so much politics in education, and so much administrative turnover. The question for districts would be how do you structure a contract offer that encourages teachers to make any concessions on job protection and due process? What are you offering in return?

  2. GoogleMaster says:

    Sorry, I got distracted by how a professional educators’ organization thinks that “phi” should be abbreviated by the letter “P” (Phi Delta Kappa -> PDK).
    The first thing that struck me was how this post and the article to which it links both magically conflate populations. The set of “Americans” is not equal to the set of “parents with a child in the local schools”. On the one hand, we are told that 18% of Americans think that the nation’s schools are good, but on the other hand, we are told that 77% of parents with a child in the local schools think their child’s school is good. (Hey, does that mean the childless and childfree see through the propaganda to recognize the failing schools for what they are?)
    Heck, the set of “parents with school-aged children” isn’t even the same as the set of “parents with a child in the local schools”. The local population is about 35-40% non-Hispanic white, 15-20% non-Hispanic black, 5% Asian, 40% Hispanic of any race. The central city school system is 8% (eight, not eighty or eighteen) non-Hispanic white, 27% non-Hispanic black, 3% Asian, 62% Hispanic of any race. So either some segments of the population aren’t having children at all, or they’re putting them in private schools.
    I dug down about three links to the PDK/Gallup .pdf report and found this:
    “Next, we asked Americans three questions: Give let-
    ter grades to the public schools in general, A to Fail;
    give letter grades to schools in your community; and
    asked just parents to give letter grades to the school
    their oldest child attends. As above, we’re providing
    longitudinal data in five-year intervals.”
    It sounds as though they started with a sample population and then asked some of the questions only to a subset of that population.

  3. David, why should a public-school teacher have any more job security than, say, an electrical engineer or a marketing specialist in a corporation? Indeed, why should a public-school teacher have any more job security than a private-school teacher? The idea that being paid with tax funds should automatically entitle on the more security than people who are *not* being paid with tax funds seems questionable to me, to say the least.