With more teacher walkouts possibly on the horizon for this coming school year, new polling results from Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International show that more than three-fourths of public school parents would stand behind teachers if they went on strike for salary increases.
Two-thirds of those responding to the PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools say teachers in their community are paid too low, a response that has been steadily increasing since 1981.
But while Americans show broad support for teachers, and more than 60% say they have trust and confidence in public school educators, only a little more than half overall — 54% — say they want their children to teach. Support for a child pursuing teaching as a career was the highest among Hispanic parents at 67%, and the lowest among white parents at 40%. Parents without college degrees were also more likely to oppose such a future for their children.
“Crappy pay,” large class sizes, a “thankless job” and potential danger were some of the reasons respondents cited in an open-ended question about why they don’t want their son or daughter to be a teacher.
The results line up with a recent report showing declining enrollment in the nation’s teacher education programs. With more efforts to attract young people, especially students of color, into teaching during their high school years, the findings raise the question of how much influence parents have over whether their children choose that path. Joshua Starr, CEO of PDK International -- which introduces teens to the teaching field through its Educators Rising program -- said in an email that PDK hasn’t looked at the role of parents, but “perhaps we should.”
The PDK Poll has been conducted since 1969. Just last month, PDK released early findings from the poll on parents’ and the public’s attitudes regarding school security issues, with leaders opting to release these results early "as a contribution to the public discourse on this critical issue,” according to the survey report.
More than a third of parents saying they don’t believe their children are safe at school, the findings showed, and only about a quarter of the sample of 1,042 adults is in favor of allowing teachers and other school staff members to carry weapons. But support increases if armed educators participate in about 80 hours of “rigorous training and screening" — about 80 hours of preparation.
The responses regarding school safety issues also showed significant support for armed officers in schools and mental health screening and services. Respondents, however, would rather officials spend money on addressing students’ mental health needs than hiring armed guards.
The survey also asked respondents about other opinions on schools. Many strongly favor improving existing systems over replacing them with an alternative model — 78% compared to 22%. The survey questions, however, did not specify what the alternatives might include, such as charters or vouchers for private schools. Support for reforming existing public schools was highest among black respondents and liberals, and it was lowest among Hispanic respondents and conservatives.
A majority of respondents — 60% — favor spending more money on students with greater needs, but they were evenly split on whether the extra money should come from higher taxes or by spending less on students with fewer needs. Three-fourths of those surveyed, however, say children living in low-income communities have fewer educational opportunities than those in more affluent areas, and that the expectations for their success are lower. Black and Hispanic respondents were also significantly more likely than white respondents to say their children have fewer opportunities to learn.
Poll finds increasing concerns about college costs
The poll also asked questions about current education policy issues, such as whether community college should be free and whether school schedules should change for reasons like providing more class time or to allow students to get more sleep.
Three-fourths of respondents favor making community college free, and more than two-thirds think the federal government should do more to help students afford a four-year degree. Respondents also think a four-year degree provides the best preparation for a well-paying job. There was variation, however, in attitudes toward the cost benefits of advanced degrees — college graduates and those with advanced degrees were more likely than those without these degrees to say education beyond a bachelor’s is worth the cost.
Parents of school-age children, however, show increasing concern that they won’t be able to pay for their kids' education. Since 2014, the percentage of concerned parents jumped from 30% to 46%. In 2010, almost 80% of parents with children in school said they would likely be able to afford college, but this year, the percentage is down to 54%.
Responses to the poll reflected a movement to push back school start times for adolescents. Roughly 60% of all high school parents favor adjusting the school schedule by about 30 minutes, with most preferring that schools start and end later. Fathers, the poll finds, are more likely to prefer early start times — in the 7 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. range — than mothers. Parents were also less concerned about whether a schedule change would result in more time on the school bus than they were the impact on before- or after-school activities.
The findings come at a time when districts in 20 states have moved back school starting times, according to nonprofit Start School Later. The districts include Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida, and several in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
“School communities are increasingly finding creative, affordable, and livable ways to run schools at sleep-friendly hours," the organization's executive director, Terra Ziporyn Snider, said in a news release. “With so many health and educational professionals calling for schedules that give students a chance for healthier sleep, it’s no surprise we’re seeing more and more schools make these changes every year."
Support highest for children's own schools
More than half of those polled said students now are getting a worse education than when they were in school, and that schools are particularly teaching interpersonal skills, facts and figures, and work preparation.
Even so, public school parents still positively rate their own child’s school, with 70% giving it a grade of A or B — about the same in the mid 1980s, but lower than in 2011, when almost 80% assigned those grades. Less than half of respondents overall — 43% — give their local schools an A or a B, and only 19% give the nation’s schools high grades.
Along racial lines, Hispanic and black respondents are more likely than white respondents to give the nation’s schools an A or a B. Black parents, however, were less likely to give high grades to their local schools.
PDK notes that because the poll is based on a random sample of online survey takers — drawn from the GfK KnowledgePanel, a market research organization — the results might be more negative than if respondents were talking to a survey taker on the phone.