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Education Next Poll Surveys Public Opinion on Teacher Salaries, School Spending and Union Issues

August 22, 2018
By Albert Cheng, Michael B. Henderson, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West

Education’s political landscape has shifted dramatically over the past year. To the consternation of most school-district officials, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos used the bully pulpit to promote charter schools, vouchers, and tax credits for private-school scholarships. To the distress of teachers unions, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Illinois law requiring government workers who elect not to become union members to pay representation fees. To the chagrin of civil-rights groups, the U.S. Department of Education said that it was reviewing a letter sent to school districts by the Obama administration informing them that they were at risk of incurring a civil-rights violation if students of color were suspended or expelled more often than their peers. To the relief of Common Core enthusiasts, the politically charged debate over the standards moved to the back burner. And to the dismay of parents, teachers, and policymakers across the political spectrum, students demonstrated almost no gains in reading and math on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) over the 2015 test.

All these events were consequential, but none penetrated into the thinking of the American public as sharply as did teacher strikes in six southern and western states. Those walkouts seem to have lent new urgency to teacher demands for salary raises and increased financial support for schools.

The status of public opinion on these and other topics comprises the 12th annual Education Next (EdNext) survey of public opinion, administered in May 2018. The poll’s nationally representative sample of 4,601 adults includes an oversampling of parents, teachers, African Americans, and those who identify themselves as Hispanic. (All estimates of results are adjusted for non-response and oversampling of specific populations. See methods sidebar for further details.)

On several issues, our analysis teases out nuances in public opinion by asking variations of questions to randomly selected segments of survey participants. Respondents were divided at random into two or more segments, with each group asked a different version of the same general question. For example, we told half of the respondents-but not the other half-how much the average teacher in their state was paid before asking them whether they thought salaries should be increased, be decreased, or remain about the same. By comparing the differences in the opinions of the two groups, we are able to estimate the extent to which relevant information influences public thinking as to the desirability of a pay increase.

Some of the key findings from the poll are:

1. Teacher salaries. Among those provided with information on average teacher salaries prevailing in their state, 49% of the public say the pay should increase-a 13-percentage-point jump over the share who said so last year. Sixty-three percent of respondents in the six states that experienced teacher strikes in early 2018 favor boosting teacher pay, as compared to 47% elsewhere.

2. School spending. Among those provided information about current spending levels in their local school districts, 47% say that spending should increase, an increase of 7 percentage points over the prior year.

3. Agency fees. In June 2018, the Supreme Court reached a decision favored by majorities of the public and of teachers when it ruled that states could not allow public-employee unions to impose agency fees to cover collective-bargaining costs on workers who do not join unions. No less than 56% of the general public and 56% of public-school teachers oppose laws that require “all teachers” to “pay fees for union representation even if they choose not to join the union.” Only 25% of the public and 34% of teachers favor agency fees.

4. Union and nonunion teachers. Opinions on various issues differ widely between public-school teachers who join unions and those who do not. Nonunion members are 20 percentage points more likely to support annual testing in reading and math, charter schools, and universal school vouchers. Union members are at least 20 percentage points more likely to support increasing school spending (when informed of current spending levels), increasing teacher salaries, and giving teachers tenure; they are also more satisfied with union political activities and view collective-bargaining contracts more favorably. However, on some topics-merit pay, Common Core, school-discipline practices, and affirmative action in school assignment policies-the views of union and nonunion members do not differ significantly.

5. School vouchers. A 54% majority of the public supports “wider choice” for public-school parents by “allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition,” a 9-percentage-point increase over a year ago. Opposition to vouchers has fallen from 37% to 31%. Approval for vouchers targeted to low-income families has not changed. Just 43% express a favorable view, the same level as in 2017. African American (56%) and Hispanic (62%) respondents are more favorably disposed toward vouchers for low-income families than are whites (35%).

6. Charter schools. After a substantial decline in support in 2017, public backing for charter schools climbed by 5 percentage points this past year, to 44%, with only 35% opposed. The uptick is concentrated almost entirely among Republicans, widening the divide between Republicans and Democrats on this issue.

7. Common Core. After falling in previous years, opinion on the Common Core State Standards has now stabilized at 45% in support and 38% opposed. The Common Core brand remains weak, however. When half of the respondents are asked instead about using standards that are “the same across the states,” the favorable response is 16 percentage points higher than when the name Common Core is used.

8. Assessment of local schools, police, and post offices. Despite the lack of progress on NAEP math and reading tests, approximately half the public (51%) awards the public schools in their local community a grade of A or B. This percentage has remained in the low to mid-50s for the past three years, slightly higher than in earlier iterations of the EdNext survey, when the percentage was stuck in the 40s. Still, the public holds schools in lower esteem than it does the local police force or local post office, which receive a grade of A or B from 69% and 68% of the public, respectively. African Americans view both the public schools and the police force in their local communities more negatively than do other racial and ethnic groups: 39% of African Americans think the public schools in their local communities merit an A or a B, and 43% give these grades to their local police forces.

9. Racial disparities in disciplinary practices. A majority of the public seems to share the position taken by the Trump administration when it announced its intention to review-and potentially rescind-a federal-government letter to local school officials warning them that they risk incurring a civil-rights infraction if they suspend, expel, or otherwise discipline students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds at different rates. Only 27% of the public favor, while 49% oppose “federal policies that prevent schools from expelling or suspending black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students.”

10. Affirmative action in K-12 school assignments. With the departure of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy from the Supreme Court, affirmative action in school assignment policies could re-emerge as an issue before the court in the coming years. Majorities of the public and of teachers oppose both race-based and income-based affirmative action in K-12 school assignment decisions.

11. Immigration. Only 30% of respondents favor “the federal government providing additional money to school districts based on the number of immigrant children they serve.” In locales where the proportion of foreign-born residents is above the national median, 37% of respondents endorse the proposal, but that backing drops to 22% among those living in areas with fewer immigrants.

To read the complete report, click on the link below:

Source: Education Next

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