Public trusts teachers, but not their unions

Americans trust teachers, but not their unions, concludes the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll.

More than 70 percent of respondents have confidence in public school teachers; 69 percent give local teachers an A or B. However, nearly half say teachers’ unions hurt public education.

Three out of four said they’d encourage a bright student to become a teacher; 67 percent would like their own child to choose a public-school teaching career.

Americans increasingly support school choice, but only one of three favors vouchers, the poll reported.

Consistent with past findings, Americans believe teacher salaries should be based on multiple factors, including advanced degrees, experience, and the principal’s evaluations of the teacher. Students’ scores on standardized tests were rated as least important. Similarly, Americans believe that school districts should use multiple factors to determine which teachers should be laid off first, rather than basing it primarily on seniority (last hired, first fired).

College prepares graduates for the workforce, respondents said, but not all believe a college degree is sufficient for readiness.

Even more so than in the past, Americans give high marks to local schools, low marks to the nation’s schools, notes Rick Hess.

I’ll start by noting that I’m not a huge fan of the American public right now. After all, we’re the twits who demand lots of services but don’t want to pay for them. And then we get angry when our leaders can’t square this circle. We insist that they take painful steps to rein in spending, and then complain when they try to do it. In short, we’ve shown all the character and discipline of an irate preschooler.

While Americans strongly prefer small classes, 80 percent “believe that high school classes with more students and a better teacher would result in higher student achievement than would smaller classes with less effective teachers,” Hess notes.

Public, teachers’ views split on reform

Teachers’ views on education issues have diverged from public opinion in the last year, concludes a Harvard survey. Take the survey here.

The public splits on whether teachers’ unions have a positive or negative influence; teachers defend their unions more strongly.

Public opposition to teacher tenure edged upward; teachers support tenure more than ever. Public support for basing tenure on student academic progress increased from 49 percent to 55 percent, but only 30 percent of teachers agreed.

The public supports merit pay by a 47 to 27 percent margin. Only 18 percent of teachers favor merit pay and 72 percent oppose it.

The public agrees with teachers on one issue: 55 percent of the public and 82 percent of teachers favor higher pay. Only 7 percent of the public would cut teacher pay.

However, public support for higher teacher pay falls to 42 percent when those surveyed are told how much the average teacher in their state is currently paid.

Given a choice between increasing teacher salaries and reducing class sizes, the public opted for smaller classes. Told that “reducing average class sizes by three students would cost roughly the same amount as increasing teacher salaries by $10,000,” 44 percent chose class-size reduction and 28 percent selected increasing teacher salaries.

Teachers split on whether to opt for higher pay or smaller classes.

By a strong margin, the public favored teachers paying a percentage of their benefit costs, while teachers overwhelmingly reject this cost-cutting measure.

Public support for vouchers increased: 47 percent backed “a proposal to give families with children in public schools a wider choice, by allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition.”

Forty-three percent of the public — and 45 percent of teachers — supported charter schools; a minority are anti-charter and many are undecided.

Teachers' unions lose media support

Teachers’ unions have lost media support, write Richard Whitmire and Andrew Rotherham in the Wall Street Journal.

Quick: Which newspaper in recent editorials called teachers unions “indefensible” and a barrier to reform? You’d be excused for guessing one of the conservative outlets, but it was that bastion of liberalism, the New York Times. A month ago, The New Yorker—yes, The New Yorker—published a scathing piece on the problems with New York City’s “rubber room,” a union-negotiated arrangement that lets incompetent teachers while away the day at full salary while doing nothing. The piece quoted a principal saying that union leader Randi Weingarten “would protect a dead body in the classroom.”

Things only got worse for the unions this past week. A Washington Post editorial about charter schools carried this sarcastic headline: “Poor children learn. Teachers unions are not pleased.” And the Times weighed in again Monday, calling a national teachers union “aggressively hidebound.”

What happened? Public opinion shifted to favor accountability, “no excuses” charter schools showed poor urban kids can learn and President Barack Obama bucked the unions to push for charter schools, testing, performance pay and firing bad teachers.

Data collected under No Child Left Behind provisions has made it  easier to figure out which teachers are succeeding, Whitmire and Rotherham write.

“Data and results are challenging an industry that was traditionally driven by hope, hype and good intentions,” says Jane Hannaway, the director of education policy at the Urban Institute. Ms. Hannaway argues that in the long run these emerging databases may be the most important dividend of today’s school accountability policies.

Inner-city students are doing so poorly that many blacks and other Democrats are willing to try just about anything to get change.