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What Americans Say About...

Teaching: Respect but dwindling appeal

Americans trust and support teachers, but they draw the line at wanting their own children to join a profession they see as undervalued and low-paid.

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 the 2018 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

Even as most Americans continue to say they have high trust and confidence in teachers, a majority also say they don’t want their own children to become teachers, most often citing poor pay and benefits as the primary reason for their reluctance.

These findings are part of the 50th annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, which queried U.S. adults about a range of issues confronting education, including teacher pay and the teaching profession, school security, options for improving the public schools, perceptions of opportunities for different groups of children, college affordability, the value of a college degree, and school schedules. The survey is based on a random representative sample of 1,042 adults with an oversample to 515 parents of school-age children in May 2018. Langer Research Associates of New York City produced the poll for PDK International using the GfK KnowledgePanel®, in which participants are randomly recruited via address-based sampling and invited to participate in surveys online. Full details about the poll’s methodology are available at pdkpoll.org/methodology.

Earlier, PDK released responses to a series of school security questions. An abbreviated version of those results is included in this supplement.

Among key findings in this report are the remarkable support for improving teacher salaries — and record-high compunctions about entering the profession, in part given poor pay. Two-thirds of Americans say teacher pay in their community is too low; just 6% say it’s too high. An overwhelming 73% say they would support teachers in their community if they went on strike for higher salaries, including about 6 in 10 Republicans.

As things stand, 54% of Americans say they would not want their child to become a public school teacher, a majority for the first time in a question initially asked in 1969. Poor pay and benefits are at the top of the list of reasons why, cited by 3 in 10 of those who’d rather not see their child go into teaching. In a related result, funding remains the most commonly cited problem facing the public schools, a result that’s been consistent since the early 2000s.

Key points

Teacher pay: Are we paying teachers what they’re worth?

This year's poll finds broad support for higher teacher pay. Two-thirds of Americans say teachers are underpaid, a new high in data since the first PDK poll in 1969. Just 6% of adults say teachers earn too much.

Teacher salaries also emerge as a prominent issue when we ask Americans to identify the biggest problems facing the public schools. Nine percent specifically mention teacher salaries, and 26% cite funding issues more broadly. Concern about funding is far higher among adults who say teachers are underpaid (32%) than among those who say they are not underpaid (14%).

Teacher pay: Would you support a teacher strike?

An overwhelming 78% of public school parents — 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.

School improvement: Should we improve schools or start from scratch?

Nearly 8 in 10 Americans prefer reforming the existing public school system rather than finding an alternative approach — more than in any year since the question was first asked two decades ago. There’s no difference closer to home: 78% say they’d rather reform than replace the local school system.

Spending & funding: Should schools spend more on needier students?

The public supports spending more on students who need extra support (60%) rather than spending the same amount on every student (39%). But they divide evenly on where the funds should come from: Half favor raising taxes to accommodate the additional need; half say the schools should spend less on students who require fewer resources, with sharp partisan and ideological differences. In a separate question and for the 17th consecutive year, Americans have named the lack of funding as the biggest problem facing their local schools.

School security: Is your child safe at school?

Arming teachers trails other school security measures supported by parents. 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.

Opportunities & expectations: Do all students have the same chances?

The public perceives substantial gaps in educational opportunities and expectations facing student groups. Some are racial or geographic, but the sharpest are income-based: 75% of Americans say public school students in low-income communities have fewer educational opportunities than those in well-off communities, and 55% say schools in low-income areas have lower expectations for their students.

Then & now: Have schools improved over time?

Fifty-five percent say students today receive a worse education than what they experienced when they were students. U.S. adults see job preparation as particularly weak, but they also identify some areas — such as college prep, encouraging critical thinking, and providing a good education for all — where today’s students are receiving a better education than they did.

College affordability: Should community college tuition be free?

The poll finds broad support for proposals to make college more affordable. Seventy-five percent of Americans are in favor of free tuition for community college — up sharply in just the past few years — while 68% support increasing federal funding to help students pay tuition at four-year colleges. Currently, only about half of K-12 parents say they’re at least somewhat likely to be able to pay for college — and among those making less than $50,000 a year, that falls to just one-third.

The value of a degree: Is a college degree worth the cost?

Hand in hand with support for tuition assistance, the public sees value in educational attainment. Eighty-two percent see a four-year degree as good preparation for a good-paying job — though only 22% say it’s “very” good preparation. That view rises sharply for graduate degrees.

School grades: How would you grade the schools?

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%.


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