Cambridge, Mass., Aug. 21, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The 2018 Education Next annual survey of American public opinion on education reveals growing support for increasing teacher pay—to the highest level seen in EdNext’s annual survey since 2008—amid a national wave of statewide teacher strikes and walkouts, with residents of affected states especially enthusiastic. Public support for charter schools and vouchers for all students is also up from last year. The Trump administration’s review—and potential rescinding—of an Obama-era “Dear Colleague” letter on racial disparities in student discipline seems to follow views of the general public, as respondents largely oppose federal regulation to address these disparities. A sizable majority also oppose affirmative action in K-12 school assignments.

The nationally representative EdNext survey of over 4,000 adults includes representative samples of parents, teachers, African Americans, and Hispanics. New this year is a breakdown of teacher respondents that shows sharp differences between union and nonunion members. This year’s results also include two interactive graphics providing both 2018 findings and trends going back as far as twelve years on some questions. 

View the 2018 interactive graphic hereView the trends interactive graphic here.

Among the key findings:

Support climbs for raising teacher salaries. When informed about the average teacher salary in their state, 49% of respondents say that salaries should increase—a 13-percentage point increase from last year and the largest change in opinion from last year on any poll question. Support rose within both political parties, from 45% in 2017 to 59% this year among Democrats, and from 27% to 38% among Republicans. In states that experienced teacher strikes or walkouts this year—Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia—63% of respondents favor increasing teacher salaries compared to 47% elsewhere. When not informed about average teacher salaries in their state, a larger share of respondents supports raising pay: 67% say that salaries should increase, 29% say they should remain the same, and 4% say they should decrease.

Growing favor for universal vouchers. A 54% majority of the public supports school vouchers for all students, a 9-percentage-point increase over a year ago. Gains have been concentrated among Republicans, but they have been realized without off-setting losses among Democrats. Public opposition to universal vouchers has fallen from 37% to 31%. Approval for vouchers targeted to low-income families has not changed: just 43% express a favorable view, the same as in 2017. African American (56%) and Hispanic (62%) respondents are more favorably disposed toward vouchers for low-income families than are white respondents (35%).

Support for charter schools back on the upswing. After a substantial drop in support for charter schools last year, public backing has increased by 5 percentage points this past year, to 44%, with 35% opposed. The uptick is concentrated almost entirely among Republicans, whose support jumped to 57% from 47%. 

Union versus non-union teachers. The U.S. Supreme Court case Janus vs. AFSCME highlighted diverging sentiments among teachers on important education policies. In addition to stark differences in opinion on agency fees—only 16% of teachers who are not union members are in favor of laws that require all teachers to “pay fees for union representation even if they choose not to join the union” compared to 65% of teachers who are union members—opinion on other issues also vary widely between union and nonunion public-school teachers. Nonunion members are at least 20 percentage points more likely to support annual testing in reading and math, charter schools, and universal school vouchers. Union members are at least 20 percentage points more likely to support increasing school spending, higher teacher salaries, and giving teachers tenure.

Public opposes affirmative action, but by a smaller margin than a decade ago. The public is overwhelmingly opposed to considering race in K–12 school assignment decisions as part of efforts to increase school diversity, though the difference between support and opposition has narrowed somewhat since we last asked the question in 2008. Among the general public, support has increased by an insignificant 2 percentage points, to 18%, but opposition has dropped by 6 percentage points, to 57%. Among public-school teachers, 27% support affirmative action practices, representing an 8-percentage-point increase since 2008. Among African Americans, the tick upward is a negligible 1%, but opposition has declined 12 percentage points to 46%. Among Hispanics, the share taking a favorable position has increased by 10 percentage points, though a majority of this group remains opposed (51% to 24%). Only 11% of Republicans and 25% of Democrats favor race-based student assignment to schools.

Low support for regulation to address racial disparities in school discipline. Support for federal regulation of racial disparities in school discipline practices remains low at 27%, though this constitutes an uptick of 6 percentage points since 2017, all of which is concentrated among Democratic respondents, whose level of approval has shifted from 29% to 40%. Although endorsement of these federal policies remains unchanged since last year among African Americans (42%), disapproval has increased 12 percentage points, from 23% to 35%.

Schools rated lower than police force and post office. Approximately half of the public (51%) rates their local public schools with a grade of A or B, consistent with the last three years of polling. However, the public holds schools in lower esteem than the local police force or local post office, which receive a grade of A or B from 69% and 68% of the public, respectively. African Americans view both the public schools and the police force in their local communities more negatively than do other racial and ethnic groups: only 39% of African Americans think the public schools in their local communities merit an A or a B, while 43% give these grades to their local police forces.

Common Core brand stabilizes. After falling in previous years, opinion on the Common Core State Standards has now stabilized at 45% in support and 38% opposed. But the Common Core brand remains toxic. For respondents asked instead about using “same standards across the states,” the percentage in favor is 16 percentage points higher than among respondents asked the question using the Common Core name.

The 2018 EdNext poll also assesses public opinion on teachers unions and agency fees, school and teacher quality, testing and accountability, immigration policies, and more.

Methodology. The 2018 poll gathered responses from a nationally representative, stratified sample of 4,601 adults aged 18 and older, including representative oversamples of teachers (641), parents with school-age children living in their home (2,129), African Americans (624), and Hispanics (799). The poll was administered in May 2018.

About the Authors: Martin R. West, editor-in-chief of Education Next, is professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and deputy director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. Michael B. Henderson is research director for the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University. Paul E. Peterson is professor and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School, where Albert Cheng is a postdoctoral fellow.

About Education NextEducation Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit educationnext.org.

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Jackie Kerstetter
Education Next
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jackie.kerstetter@educationnext.org