A growing number of people say teacher salaries are too low and that they would not support their children entering the teaching profession, a new national survey finds.
The PDK International poll on education, released today, surveyed a random national sample of 1,042 adults, which included an oversample of 515 parents of school-aged children. PDK International, a professional association for educators, conducts an annual survey of American attitudes toward public schools. A research firm conducted the 2018 survey online during the first three weeks of May. (Some of this year’s results—the findings on school safety—were already released in July.)
This year, most respondents—61 percent—said they have trust and confidence in public school teachers. That’s up from 51 percent in 2015.
However, just over half of respondents said they would not want their child to become a teacher. That’s an 11 percentage point increase from when the poll last asked that question in 2014. Among those who said they would not want their child to become a teacher, 29 percent said the main reason was inadequate pay and benefits. The second-most common answer—said by 12 percent of respondents—was student behavior and a lack of discipline. Six percent said teaching was a thankless job that wasn’t respected or valued in society.
People’s lack of support for their children becoming teachers is “disappointing, but not necessarily surprising,” said Joshua Starr, the CEO of PDK International.
He pointed to results that showed that about half of respondents are in support of raising taxes so that schools can spend more money on students who need extra results. Americans support public education, he said, but it’s a troubling contradiction that they still don’t want their children to be teachers.
“I feel like there’s a narrative that has been created about public schools in our country that is not helpful,” Starr added. “We can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, ‘Yeah, education is great, but I don’t want my kid to become a teacher.’ ... It’s problematic for our country.”
Since the poll was in the field around the same time the spring’s wave of teacher strikes and protests were in the news, the activism might have influenced some of the results, Starr said.
Most people—66 percent—said salaries for teachers in their community are too low, with just 27 percent saying the pay was “just about right” and 6 percent saying it was too high. In 2015, 58 percent thought salaries were too low (but respondents were allowed to say they had no opinion in that iteration of the poll, which 14 percent said that year).
Twenty-six percent of respondents said that a lack of money was one of the biggest problems facing public schools in their community, the most of any answer to that question.
Many of the PDK findings were in line with the results of the 2018 Education Next poll, which was released last week. That poll found growing public support for increasing teacher pay, especially in the six states where there were widespread teacher strikes and walkouts this spring: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Colorado. Nearly half of people provided with information on average teacher salaries in their states said the pay should increase, EdNext found—that’s 13 percent higher than last year.
Like the EdNext poll, the PDK poll found that most people—73 percent—would support a teacher strike for higher pay. There could be future strikes on the horizon this fall, perhaps starting with a strike in Los Angeles. Teachers there are voting this week on whether to authorize a strike over a contract dispute.
In a statement, JoAnn Bartoletti, the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said the poll’s findings reiterate the need for more investment in schools, since underpaying teachers has led to an “unsustainable” reality where fewer people want to become teachers.
“We cannot be comfortable with the stunning contradiction that a majority of Americans both recognizes the importance of the teaching profession and want their own kids nowhere near it,” she said. “The recent series of teacher strikes and the public support for more should wake us up to the need to invest more purposefully and creatively in the professionals who do nothing less than build our collective future.”
Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that the findings prove that Americans “understand the burden placed on teachers,” and support strengthening public education.
“This is a clarion call for change,” she said.
The PDK poll also surveyed people on school safety measures, including arming teachers. These results were released in July, and found that most parents do not want teachers to be armed. However, when the poll asked parents whether they would support allowing teachers and other school staff to carry guns in school if they had appropriate training and approval from the school board and local law enforcement, almost half said they would be in support.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is reportedly weighing whether to let school districts use federal money to buy guns, which has set off a firestorm of debate among the education community.
“The idea of arming teachers is a non-starter” for many parents, Starr said.
Image: A demonstrator marches around the Colorado state Capitol in Denver in April during a statewide teacher protest demanding more tax dollars be spent on public schools and teachers. —David Zalubowski/AP-File
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.