DETROIT (WWJ) – Despite low opinions of the nation’s schools, Americans rate their public school teachers more highly now than they have in the past, according to the 2011 annual Phi Delta Kappa International/Gallup Poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools.

More than 70 percent of Americans say they have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching in public schools. Sixty-nine percent of Americans give public school teachers in their community a letter grade of an A or B, compared to only 50 percent in 1984.

While the public feels positive about teachers in their communities, it has a less favorable opinion of others involved in education, particularly governors and teacher unions. In fact, nearly one in two Americans believes that teacher unions hurt public education. Despite that, slightly more than half of Americans side with teacher union leaders in disputes with governors over collective bargaining.

Although Americans clearly have concerns about education issues, when the poll asked Americans whether they would encourage the brightest person they know to become a teacher, three of four said that they would. Sixty-seven percent also said they would like to have a child of theirs choose a public-school teaching career, and 76 percent believe we should be actively recruiting our high-achieving high school students to consider teaching as a career.

“This year’s PDK/Gallup poll shows that Americans believe the key to good schools is high-quality teachers. Interestingly, they have mixed opinions whether state governors or education leaders are the ones who can better ensure that our schools provide the quality they expect,” William Bushaw, executive director of PDK International, said in a release.

The 2011 poll also reveals that Americans’ opinions of President Obama’s national education efforts have improved, increasing seven points from last year. Forty-one percent of Americans would give the president a letter grade of an A or a B for his support of public schools, close to what he received his first year in office. The public also continues to approve of Obama’s support of charter schools; 70 percent favor the idea — the highest level of approval in the past 10 years.

Additionally, Americans increasingly support school choice, or allowing students and parents to choose which public schools to attend in their community regardless of where they live. On the other hand, vouchers received their lowest approval rating in the last 10 years, with only one of three Americans in favor of allowing students and parents to use public money to pay to attend a private school.

Other key findings:

  • Funding is the biggest problem facing schools. Thirty-six percent of Americans believe that lack of financial support is the biggest problem facing schools.
  • Teacher salaries and layoffs should be based on multiple factors. Consistent with past findings, Americans believe teacher salaries should be based on multiple factors, including advanced degrees, experience, and the principal’s evaluations of the teacher. Students’ scores on standardized tests were rated as least important. Similarly, Americans believe that school districts should use multiple factors to determine which teachers should be laid off first, rather than basing it primarily on seniority (last hired, first fired).
  • Americans are conflicted over whether standardized test scores should be published. Some newspapers are releasing information about how the students of individual teachers perform on standardized tests. When asked whether they were in favor of or opposed to this practice, Americans were equally split, with 51 percent favoring it and 48 percent opposing it.
  • College is important but doesn’t guarantee readiness. College graduates are considered most ready for the world of work. However, not all Americans believe that a college degree is sufficient for readiness.

PDK, a global association of education professionals, has conducted this poll with Gallup annually since 1969. The poll serves as an opportunity for parents, educators, and legislators to assess public opinion about public schools. The 2011 findings are based on telephone interviews conducted in June 2011 with a national sample of 1,002 American adults. For more details, click here.

  1. Barry Blauer says:

    One grade makes no sense. The broad brush talking about schools ignores the big differences between school districts. We need to identify what works in the better ones and try to see if we can improve the poorer ones.

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