While 6 out of 10 teachers in the Northeast report they are fairly paid, only 3 in 10 in the South and Midwest feel that same way. (Teachers in the West fall in the middle, with 47% feeling fairly paid.)
Photo: Justin Sullivan/TNS
Photo: Justin Sullivan/TNS

Teacher discontent with pay greatest in the South and Midwest

Regular readers of the AJC Get Schooled blog will not be surprised at this finding of a new national poll: Half of public-school teachers in America have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past few years.

The 2019 Phi Delta Kappa Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools shows that America’s teachers are frustrated. In its 51st year, the PDK poll  includes a random national sample of public-school teachers for the first time since 2000, combining their responses with those of parents and adults in the general public.  

The poll documents a deep discontent among America’s teachers, 60% of whom say they’re unfairly paid and 55% of whom say they’d vote to go on strike for higher pay. 

Southern and Midwestern teachers unhappy with their salaries play a big role in bringing down the rate of educators unhappy with their pay. While six out of 10 teachers in the Northeast report they are fairly paid, only 3 in 10 in the South and Midwest believe their salary is fair. (Teachers in the West fall in the middle, with 47% feeling fairly paid.) 

Other signs of teacher discord: 75% say the schools in their community are underfunded; 58% say they’d vote to strike for higher funding for school programs, and 52% say they’d vote to strike for greater teacher say in academic policies on standards, testing, and the curriculum. 

While half of teachers say they’ve seriously considered leaving the profession, the rate climbs to 62% among teachers who feel undervalued, who feel their pay is unfair, or earn less than $45,000 annually. Having considered quitting is more common among high school teachers, at 61% vs. 48% in the lower grades. 

Teacher worries over school funding are shared by others; Americans call a lack of financial support for the public schools the biggest problem facing their local schools for the 18th consecutive year in the poll.

However, while 60% of respondents say schools have too little money, the majority don’t endorse raising taxes. They support directing revenue from state lotteries, legal recreational marijuana, and sports gambling to schools. 

Other interesting findings from the study:

-Most parents and teachers want schools to require students to study civics. They also feel schools should offer Bible studies classes as electives. They agree with the current discipline trend to replacing detention and suspension with mediation and counseling.

-Support for Bible studies in the public schools peaks at 82% among evangelical Christians, 78% of Republicans, and 76% of conservatives, compared with 51% of Democrats and 43% of liberals. (It’s 59% among independents and 67% among moderates.) 

-Among Democrats, there’s a racial and ethnic division — 67% of Black Democrats support Bible studies, compared with 52% of Latinx Democrats and 45% of White Democrats. Support also is 10 points higher in rural areas than in cities or suburbs — 72% vs. 62%.

-Almost all Americans, 97%, say public schools should be teaching civics, including 70% saying it should be required. (Education Week has reported only eight states require students to enroll in a yearlong civics or government course in high school; 27 others require a semester-long course.)

Parents and adults (each 53%) agree that academics should be the focus of a public-school education while teachers say the main goal should be preparing students to be good citizens (45%) or preparing them academically (37%). 

-Preference for work preparation as a focus of schools is higher among Republicans, conservatives, rural residents, and whites than their counterparts. Asian-American parents and public-school teachers are most focused on citizenship, and Democrats are 9 points more apt than Republicans and independents to prioritize academics.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.