PDK poll finds support for teacher strikes

Four in five public-school parents would support local teachers if they went on strike for higher pay, according to results of this year’s PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools.

Seventy-three percent of the overall public would back a strike by local teachers, the poll found. Even among Republicans, support for a teachers’ strike was 60 percent.

The poll, released this week by Phi Delta Kappa, has tracked public opinion on schools and teachers since 1969. This year’s poll surveyed a random sample of over 1,000 adults in May 2018.

The support for teacher strikes is remarkable at a time when union membership is shriveling, strikes are rare and government officials from state legislators to the Supreme Court have declared war on organized labor. But walkouts last spring by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky received a lot of attention, and the poll suggest the public was sympathetic.

If nothing else, the strikes raised awareness of teacher pay as a public-policy issue. The poll found that two-thirds of the public think teacher salaries are too low. Even after being told the average starting salary for teachers is $39,000, 65 percent said that was too low.

The flip side is that mamas don’t want their babies to grow up to be teachers. For the first time in the poll’s history, a majority – 54 percent – of parents said they wouldn’t encourage their children to become public-school teachers, presumably because of low pay.

“This does not bode well for the future of the profession, which needs thousands of candidates to replace those who are leaving the field, sometimes after only a short stint,” writes Richard Long, executive director of the Learning First Alliance, in an essay accompanying the poll results.

We’ve been seeing this trend for a while. A report last year from the Learning Policy Institute found that enrollment in teacher-training programs declined by 35 percent between 2009 and 2014.

In other poll findings:

  • 60 percent said schools should spend more money to educate students with greater needs; 39 percent disagree.
  • 55 percent of adults said schools are less effective today than when they were students. That’s the most negative result since the question was first asked in 1973.
  • As usual, the more people know about schools, the better they think they are. Seventy percent of parents gave their children’s school a grade of A or B. Forty-three percent of the public gave local schools an A or B. Only 19 percent gave the nation’s schools an A or B.
  • For the 17th straight year, inadequate funding was identified as the greatest problem facing schools, cited by 26 percent of poll respondents.

Results on school safety, released separately last month, showed a sharp increase in security concerns. Some 34 percent of parents said they feared for their children’s safety at school, up from 12 percent five years earlier. The surge likely reflects high-profile coverage of school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, which were fresh news when the survey was conducted.

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