Waylon Jennings classic country hit advises Mama’s not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys.
Now, I guess we can add teachers to that list.
According to the 50th annual PDK Poll of attitudes about public schools, Americans trust and support teachers, but don’t want their own children to join a profession they see as underpaid and undervalued.
In almost every other way, they support public schools and the educators who work there.
When it comes to increasing school funding, increasing teacher salary, allowing teachers to strike, and an abundance of other issues, the poll found a majority of people unequivocally in favor of endeavors meant to bolster learning.
In fact, support for education and educators has never been so high in half a century.
“Two-thirds of Americans say teachers are underpaid, and an overwhelming 78% of public school parents say they would support teachers in their community if they went on strike for more pay,” according to PDK’s Website.
If true, this result illuminates an incredible tone deafness among politicians like Scott Wagner in Pennsylvania who is running for governor on the platform that teachers make too much money. According to the poll, only 6% of Americans agree with him.
Moreover, those who support teachers strikes include 6 in 10 Republicans.
“Those who would be most affected by a teacher walk-out — say they would support teachers in their community if they went on strike for more pay. Among the general public, 73% say they would support a job action for higher wages.”
These are record high results that are also reflected in respondents unwillingness to encourage their own children to become teachers in the current political landscape.
For the first time since the question was asked in 1969, a majority of 54% say they would not want their child to become a teacher.
The reason? Poor pay and benefits.
Moreover, a lack of adequate funding is cited as the most common problem facing public schools – a finding that’s held true since the early 2000s. In fact, for the 17th consecutive year, Americans have named the lack of funding as the biggest problem facing their local schools.
It seems that either or both major political parties could easily pick up broad popular support by doing an about face on education. Instead of backing standardization and privatization, they should get behind public education.
The topic has typically served as a wedge issue between progressives and corporate Democrats while Republicans have almost exclusively backed a strategy to “starve the beast” and promote privatization.
However, Democrats and/or Republicans who ran on respecting and remunerating teachers as well as increasing support for the public schools that employ them would find major support among voters.
The PDK poll is based on responses from 1,042 adults including 515 parents of school-age children. They were randomly and representatively sampled in May 2018 through on-line surveys.
The 2018 results include particular support for the public school system as opposed to charter and voucher schools.
Nearly 8 in 10 people said they prefer reforming the existing public school system rather than finding an alternative approach.
That’s a higher response than any year since the question was first asked 20 years ago. Moreover, it’s not just an opinion about nationwide schooling: 78% say they’d rather reform than replace the local school system, as well.
In addition, there is support among Americans to not only increase funding, but also spend it more equitably.
A majority (60%) support spending more on students who need extra help than spending the same amount on every child (39%).
Responds were more divided on where the influx of funding should come from.
Half of respondents favor raising taxes and half say the schools should spend less on students who require fewer resources.
This is related to public perception of exactly which students are receiving unfair funding. The poll revealed that most people recognize some resource inequality based on race and geographic region but they think most is based on parental wealth: 75% of respondent say public school students serving mostly poor students have fewer resources than those serving rich students.
One of the most interesting findings is always the public’s overall perception of schools.
And this poll – as in previous editions – found a sharp difference in respondents appraisal of schools nationwide vs. the schools in their own neighborhoods.
Fifty-five percent say that on a national scale students today get a worse education than those in previous generations.
“The public schools continue to suffer from an image deficit. Among those who know them best, parents of current students, 70% give their oldest child’s school an A or B grade. Among the public more broadly, by contrast, only four in 10 give their local schools an A or B. In results that are typical across the years, far fewer give top grades to the public schools nationally, just 19%.”
In other words, people seem to think that nationally our schools stink. But the schools in our own neighborhoods are pretty good.
The reason is simple. National perception is formed by the media. Local perception is formed by actual empirical evidence.
The forces of school privatization and their propaganda network has pushed the lie of “failing schools” for so long, that people believe it – except in their own neighborhoods where they see it to be false.
But the questions weren’t all about how schools should be run. They also asked about security – a hot topic when school shootings happen at least once a month.
“Parents lack strong confidence that schools can protect their children against a school shooting but favor armed police, mental health screenings, and metal detectors more than arming teachers to protect their children.”
This bodes badly for the Trump administrations plans to push guns on public school teachers instead of enacting common sense gun regulations.
As usual, policymakers are trying to herd Americans to their point of view instead of listening to their constituencies.
And that seems to be the big take away from this year’s poll.
Americans want and support public education.
It’s time our so-called leaders got with the program.
Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
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