The 2018 PDK poll on public education released Monday reinforces Americans' support for schools, especially the ones in their own communities. But for the first time in its history, the PDK poll finds a majority of Americans opposing their own kids becoming a public school teacher.
Dating back to 1969, the PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools is the nation’s longest continual measure of our views toward public schools.
This year, the poll asked about teacher pay, strikes, school spending, college costs and opportunities and expectations for students.
How people view the schools was influenced by whether they had school-age children and where they lived. As the PDK summary explains:
Notably, among those who don't have a school-age child, 57% say children today are getting a worse education than they did; among parents, this declines to 46%. Whites are another more critical group — 60% say schools today are worse, an opinion shared by 48% of Hispanics and 40% of blacks.
There's a strong link between perceptions of local schools and education quality overall. Those who give their local schools an A or B grade say education is better now than when they were in school, 61% vs. 39%. That's essentially reversed among those assigning lower grades, 32% vs. 68%. The pattern is similar, though much less stark, by high and low grades for schools nationally as opposed to locally.
Americans who report living in high- or upper-middle-income communities (55%) are more likely than those who live in middle- to lower-income areas (40%) to say that children today get a better education than they did.
Americans agree teachers are paid too little and endorse teacher strikes. Two-thirds say teachers are underpaid, a new high. Only 6 percent say teachers earn too much.
The poll was conducted in May after many Americans had likely seen news coverage of teacher walkouts in West Virginia,Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona over low pay and classroom conditions.
While Americans back higher pay for the teaching profession, only 46 percent would want their own kids to enter it. The main reason parents cite: low teacher salaries and benefits. At the same time, the PDK poll shows a decline in Americans who express trust and confidence in public school teachers.
As the summary explains:
Public school teaching as a career path has lost much of its allure. Fifty-four percent of parents would not like one of their children to take up teaching in the public schools as a career, a majority response to this question for the first time since we began asking the question in 1969. Although 46% surveyed in the 2018 PDK poll would support a teaching career, that's down steeply from 70% in 2009 and from a high of 75% in the first PDK poll in 1969. Support has been lower just once before, by a single percentage point, during a trough in the early 1980s.
Americans may not want their children to become teachers, but most say they have trust and confidence in teachers — 61% — although this leaves 4 in 10 (39%) who lack such confidence. That's the highest lack of confidence in seven PDK polls since the question was first asked in 2010, though it was similar (35%) in 2014. Parents of school-age children have higher trust than those without children in school, 68% vs. 59%.
Liberals and white women with college degrees, as well as those who rate public schools highly, are most likely to have trust and confidence in teachers, three-quarters or more of each. This drops to only about half of conservatives, Northeasterners, white men without degrees, and adults who give low grades to the schools.
Other interesting findings:
-There is broad support for proposals to make college more affordable. Three-quarters of Americans support free tuition at community college --- up sharply over the past few years. Sixty-eight percent support increasing federal funding to help students pay tuition at four-year colleges. At the same time, little more than half of parents say they are at least somewhat likely to be able to pay for college for their own kids.
-As the debate continues over whether to push back the start of the school day, high school parents are largely satisfied with their child's current school schedule. But about 6 in 10 say current start and end times are off their ideal by at least 30 minutes --- generally, too early.
-Nearly eight in 10 Americans prefer reforming the existing public school system rather than finding an alternative approach. That number is higher than in any year since the question was first asked two decades ago.
-On the issue of educational equity, 60 percent prefer spending more on students who need extra support rather than spending the same amount on every student. But Americans are divided on where the money should come from: Half favor raising taxes to meet the additional need, while half say schools should spend less on students who need fewer resources. The public believes that a child's educational opportunities vary based on family income, racial or ethnic group, and the type of community where they live. Many Americans also say schools expect less from certain groups of students.
-Fifty-five percent of Americans say students today receive a worse education than what they experienced. About 4 in 10 give their local schools an A or B grade. But among parents of current students, 70 percent give their own child's school an A or B grade.