Teacher strikes may put parents at an inconvenience, but that’s not stopping them from saying they would support teachers in their communities from going on strike over salaries, school funding and having more say in education issues, according to this year’s Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.
Eighty-four percent of K-12 public school parents say they would support teachers for striking over school funding issues, compared to 58% of teachers who say they would vote to strike for this reason.
Teachers’ responses suggest many are frustrated with the status of their profession and have considered leaving teaching for reasons ranging from pay to the stress of the job. Some 60% of teachers say their pay is unfair, and just over half, 52%, say they are valued a good amount or a great deal.
“The roles of teachers have diminished in my community and the public in general,” an African American female teacher in a suburban district in Georgia said as part of a focus group of teachers that PDK conducted along with the poll this year.
“Our opinions on education and classroom practices don't seem to be valued as much as they used to be. I do not encourage anyone to go into this profession mainly because I believe conditions for teaching are going to get worse and not any better.”
But others said they do feel appreciated and are still committed to working with students.
“It would take something very drastic to ever pull me away from teaching and coaching,” said a white male teacher in a suburban Texas district. “Yes, there are going to be bad days. The seasons of your teaching career won't always be positive.”
Comments similar to those are more in line with recent results from the Teaching and Learning International Survey, which showed that, despite working longer hours than counterparts in many other developed nations, a high majority of U.S. teachers — 90% — say they are satisfied with their jobs.
This year’s PDK poll reflects the responses of 2,389 adults. A grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York allowed the organization to expand the sample to include 556 public school teachers, and to conduct online focus groups with teachers and parents who have children in public schools.
Funding remains top issue
Since 2002, participants in the annual poll have consistently listed a lack of financial support as the biggest issue facing public schools. In the late ‘80s, drugs were a big concern, and in the ‘70s, Americans viewed a lack of discipline as the most pressing matter.
Sixty percent of all respondents and 75% of teachers say their local schools don’t have enough money — a perception that has likely been reinforced by legislative battles and ongoing teacher strikes and walkouts over the past two years. Black respondents are also more likely than white Americans to say their schools are not adequately funded — 73% compared to 57%.
The public’s views also coincide with those of administrators, who responded in a recent survey that funding is their biggest concern. The PDK Poll results also confirm analyses showing education funding in many states has not returned to pre-recession levels.
With education figuring into Democratic presidential candidates’ campaign platforms, PDK Poll respondents also weighed in on what they’ll be looking for when they vote next year. About two-thirds of respondents and 85% of teachers say they would be more likely to support a candidate who pledges to increase school funding.
Seventy percent of parents, and of the sample overall, responded that they’d prefer to see spending cuts in other government-funded programs rather than a tax increase, and 61% of teachers felt this way as well. Support for using lottery funds for education was almost unanimous (90%), and about three-quarters of the sample support using state revenue from legal recreational marijuana to support education.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia now allow adult recreational marijuana use. While some of the taxes on the industry are designated for public health initiatives, a blog post from the Education Commission of the States (ECS) notes that funding K-12 schools is a common use of the revenue.
“It is hard to know if promises of increased education funding are behind some of these initiatives passing, but the measures seem to show that many states think the money would be well spent in schools,” according to ECS.
Questions on discipline
Coming just a week after the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released its survey of teachers regarding discipline issues — which included views on alternatives to out-of-school suspension — the PDK Poll shows parents, teachers and the general public still favor zero-tolerance policies. And 51% of K-12 parents answered that school discipline is not strict enough, compared to 45% who said that it’s about right.
All respondents, however, responded that mediation and counseling is more effective than detention or suspension at dealing with student misbehavior. Teachers were the least likely to view detention or suspension as more effective discipline strategies.
There were also racial differences in responses to questions on these issues. Fifty-two percent of nonwhite parents, compared to 44% of white parents, said a student should be automatically suspended if he or she accidentally brings a folding knife to school that is considered a weapon. But black parents were less likely to trust that discipline in their schools is being handled fairly — 40% responded that discipline is fair, compared to 59% of all parents.
This year’s poll also includes questions on issues ranging from the role of religion in schools and to what extent schools should focus on preparing students for the workforce. Below are other key findings from the report.
- All respondents — especially teachers at 94% — said whether student performance has improved over time is a far better way to measure school effectiveness than the percentage of students who pass a test.
- 81% of teachers responded that their state issues a report card on school performance, but a large segment of parents — 43% — said they don’t know if such a report card exists.
- Among those aware of the report cards, 73% of teachers and 66% of parents said they’ve read them, and 70% of all groups say the documents were easy to understand. But the findings suggest room for improvement in making the reports, required under the Every Student Succeeds Act, more accessible to parents. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Education released a guide to help parents understand what to look for.
- For the first time this year, the poll asked teachers the same question they have long asked parents — how would they grade public schools? As with parents, teachers are the least likely to give the nation’s schools an A or a B. They’re more positive toward schools in their community and the most satisfied with the school where they work. Seventy percent give it an A or B.
- More than half of all respondents — 58% — said they think classes on the Bible should be offered as an elective. Only a small proportion, 6%, said students should be required to study the Bible. A larger proportion of the overall sample — 77% — favored schools offering comparative religion classes.
- 97% of the respondents said schools should be teaching civics, and 81% of teachers said it should be required. Less than a third, 29%, expressed concern such classes would include content that disagrees with their political views. There was also broad support among all adults — 79% — for teaching values such as honesty, civility, respect for authority, and accepting people of different religions and sexual orientations.
- While 77% of all respondents said schools should focus on academic skills and prepare students for jobs, only about 20% of the overall sample said preparing for the workforce should be the primary purpose of public education. On the topic of job preparation, parents most want their children to take classes related to computer programming, the healthcare field, and IT hardware and systems.
- 29% of parents said the pressure their children face to do well on tests is a major problem, and among teachers, half see that as a problem. Teachers were also more likely than parents to view the pressure to conform, verbal harassment and cyberbullying as problems students face at school.