Teaching Profession

Poll Finds Support for Changes in Teacher Pay

By Bess Keller — April 12, 2005 2 min read
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More than seven out of 10 Americans favor at least modest changes to the traditional way teachers are paid, although six out of 10 would endorse higher teacher salaries even without such changes, according to poll results released last week.

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Chart: Teacher Compensation

The Teaching Commission, a bipartisan group based in New York City that pushes for improved teaching in the nation’s public schools, commissioned the surveys, which found support for higher pay even if that meant tax increases.

The survey work was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and Harris Interactive. The firms polled 934 members of the general public, including an oversample of public school parents, and 553 teachers over Nov. 19-23, 2004. The margin of error for the polls was 3.5 percentage points for the public and 4.3 percentage points for teachers.

The commission, led by Louis V. Gerstner Jr., a former chairman and chief executive officer of IBM, favors improving preparation and support of teachers, giving principals control over teacher hiring and firing, and linking salaries to teaching excellence. For decades, teachers’ pay has been based mainly on their years of service and postgraduate education credits.

In the surveys, more than 75 percent of both the general public and teachers supported rewarding teachers for taking on assignments in high-poverty schools.

“Americans’ Commitment to Quality Teaching in Public Schools,” and a press release on the salary survey are available from the Teaching Commission.

But only half the teachers backed paying extra money to teachers who specialized in fields where there are shortages, such as mathematics and special education, while almost three-quarters of the general public favored such a change.

More than two-thirds of the members of the general public who were surveyed endorsed the idea of raising salaries for gains in student achievement “as measured by tests and other indicators.” Teachers mostly disliked the idea, with just one in three backing it.

“Teachers are clearly not monolithic in their views,” Mr. Gerstner said at a press event here last week.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged, “the majority of teachers still prefer the current system.”

Support for Smaller Classes

The polls found that teachers and the general public agreed that no strategy for improving education is more effective than reducing class size, although about two-thirds of the teachers in the poll favored smaller classes over almost every other approach, compared with only about a third of the general public.

Almost a third of the members of the public who were surveyed, and just under 20 percent of the teachers, favored improving teacher quality as one of the two top strategies for school improvement.

Substantial proportions of teachers and larger proportions of the general public supported changes in how teachers are admitted to the profession. For instance, 85 percent of the public and 70 percent of the teachers who were polled favored requiring teachers to pass a subject-matter test.

About half the teachers in the survey said they supported “more rigorous” teacher-preparation programs, and two-thirds said their own college coursework had not prepared them well for the classroom.

Some teacher advocates, including the 2.7 million-member National Education Association, say there are good reasons that teachers don’t want to switch to performance pay. “If you look at the history of merit pay and performance pay, it’s a political proposal and not an educational proposal,” said Michael Pons, an NEA spokesman. “People who work in education never say this is the answer to a need.”

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