Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Polls Show Strong Support for Teachers and Mental Health Counselors over Cops

Phi Delta Kappan just released its annual survey of public attitudes toward public schools.  The survey focused on the two hot button issues of the past year--teacher pay and school safety.  The results signal that those seeking reform in those areas have a strong constituency to support it.

Two-thirds say teacher salaries are too low and 73% say they would support their teachers if they went on strike.  Only 6% say teachers salaries are too high.  This would seem to be bad news for those states that want to keep education spending at current low levels.  Over half continue to fund education at a lower level now, in real dollar terms, than they did a decade ago.  Teacher salary increases would certainly require states to change their current education spending practices. 

More disappointing was the shrinking percentage of adults who would like their kids to become teachers.  That number has fallen to 46%, about 25 percentage points lower than it was a decade ago.  This is a bad sign given that there is already a current nationwide teacher shortage and the long-term prospects of repairing the teacher pipeline don't look good.  A close look at the dip, however, shows this dip in support of kids becoming teachers follows the dip in school funding.  Replenishing school funding, thus, might help improve this number as well.   

Attitudes about school safety were steadier than I expected.  One in three parents fear for their kids safety at school, basically the same percentage as in 1998.  That percentage, however, is triple the concern of five years ago.  The wide short-term variation suggests either that the number isn't that reliable or that it is a pretty emotional number that can easily ebb and flow based on current events, but remains relatively steady over time.  What was maybe most notable was how much safety attitudes differ based on family income.  Only one in four middle to higher income families were afraid for their kids, but half of families earning less than $50,ooo a year were afraid.

The survey also did a great job of breaking down potential solutions for school safety.  About three-quarters or more supported armed police in school, mental health screening, and metal detectors.  Sixty-three percent were against allowing teachers to carry guns, although that position softens when the questions is whether they would support teachers carrying guns with certain conditions.

But, of course, funds are finite, so the poll asked parents to choose between armed guards and mental health services.  A whopping 71% preferred mental health services.  The preference for mental health services interestingly held across all political groups.

It would have been nice to have seen direct questions about charters and vouchers, particularly since Education Next polling shows that support for charters has bounced back after falling last year.  Instead, this new polling asked a vague question: should we reform the current education system or find an alternative to it?  

Those who support the public school system might be encouraged by the 78% who prefer reform over alternatives.  The question, however, is sufficiently loaded and indirect that I am not sure what to take from it.  The fact that the percentage preferring reform is up over time (plus about 8%)  and the percentage preferring alternatives is slight down over time might suggest a little less general appetite for vouchers and charters than there was a decade or so ago, but again the changes are small.  


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