Teaching Profession

Poll Finds Decreasing Public Support for Teacher-Tenure Laws

By Emmanuel Felton — August 23, 2016 2 min read
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A day after proponents celebrated a major victory when the California Supreme Court let stand the pro-teacher-tenure appeals court decision in the landmark Vergara v. California case, a new national poll commissioned by a pro-reform education journal raises questions about the political viability of teacher-tenure laws.

The 2016 update of the annual EdNext poll—put out by Education Next, a journal published by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution—shows the lowest level of public support for teacher-tenure protections in the poll’s ten-year history. Just 31 percent of those polled supported giving teachers’ tenure protections, with 41 percent of Democrats voicing support, but just 29 percent of Republicans saying the same. Support for tenure is up among teachers themselves, however, with 67 percent of educators saying they support the protections, up 10 percentage points from 2014.

The results are based on a nationally representative poll of 4,181 adults that was conducted from May to June of this year. (See coverage of the results in other education-policy areas on the Charters & Choice and Politics K-12 blogs)

The poll comes at a time when as tenure opponents are mulling their next steps. Following yesterday’s decision, education activists opposed to current makeup of tenure laws swiftly issued statements saying that they planned to continue to pursue change and that Vergara, though ultimately unsuccessful, had changed the public discourse.

David Welch, the Silicon Valley titan who founded the organization that brought the Vergara case, has vowed to bring the fight over teacher-tenure protections to state legislatures around the country, reports the LA School Report.

But as Stephen Sawchuk reported back in April after the appeals court ruled in favor of tenure in the Vergara case, there seems to be little appetite to hash out the thorny issue in Sacramento.

Overall, the EdNext survey results were a mixed bag on teacher-related issues. The poll registered the highest support for teacher salary increases, 65 percent support higher pay, since 2008, but that figure declined significantly to 41 percent after participants were given data on teachers’ current salaries. Additionally, the poll showed that while teachers think that just 10 percent of their colleagues are unsatisfactory, the general public thinks 15 percent of their local educators are incompetent.

African-Americans had the lowest assessment of their local teachers, pegging 18 percent as inept.

While a whooping 77 percent of teachers opposed basing part of educators’ salaries on their students’ success, merit pay enjoyed a slight but broad base support. Half of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans supported the idea. Besides teachers, African-Americans were the only group for which the idea didn’t enjoy majority support.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.