Frustrated by poor pay and underfunded schools, half of public school teachers nationally have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past few years—and majorities in the 2019 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools say that given the opportunity, they’d vote to strike.
“I work 55 hours a week, have 12 years’ experience, and make $43,000. I worry and stress daily about my classroom prep work and kids,” one teacher told PDK. “I am a fool to do this job.”
The study is wide-ranging, covering issues including:
- School discipline
- State-issued school report cards and other means of assessing school quality
- School funding
- Civics, values, and religious studies in the curriculum
- Attitudes toward workforce development classes
The poll results show Americans are still concerned about the lack of financial support for the public schools, naming this as the biggest problem facing their local schools for the 18th year in a row.
Sixty percent say schools have too little money, with even a majority of more affluent Americans saying the public schools in their community are underfunded.
Although they’re not ready to raise taxes to solve this problem, Americans say they are ready to vote for candidates who will support greater funding for public schools. Americans also support using revenue from other sources to beef up school coffers, including:
- Legal recreational marijuana
- Sports gambling
- State lotteries
Most parents and teachers also want schools to require students to study civics and say public schools should offer Bible studies classes as electives. They also see mediation and counseling as more effective than detention and suspension when it comes to dealing with misbehaving students.
Many teachers are frustrated, ready to quit, and willing to strike
In its 51st year, the 2019 PDK poll includes a random national sample of public school teachers for the first time since 2000, adding their voices to those of parents and the general public on crucial issues in public education.
Results paint a portrait of broad teacher discontent:
- 60 percent of teachers say they’re unfairly paid, and 55 percent say they’d vote to go on strike for higher pay. Among those earning less than $45,000 annually—more than one in four teachers—support for a pay strike jumps to 67 percent.
- Pay isn’t the only concern. 75 percent of teachers say the schools in their community are underfunded. 58 percent say they’d vote to strike for higher funding for school programs, and 52 percent say they’d vote to strike for greater teacher say in academic policies on standards, testing, and the curriculum.
- Parents and the public overall stand with them; 74 percent of parents and 71 percent of all adults say they would support a strike by teachers in their community for higher pay. Even more—83 percent of parents and 79 percent of all adults—say they’d support teachers striking for a greater voice in academic policies. Similarly, high percentages of teachers say they would support teachers in their own communities if they went on strike for any of these reasons.
- As noted, half of teachers also say they’ve seriously considered leaving the profession in recent years. That rises to 62 percent among teachers who feel undervalued by their community, who say their pay is unfair, or who earn less than $45,000 annually. Having considered quitting also peaks among high school teachers, at 61 percent vs. 48 percent in the lower grades.
- A majority of teachers—55 percent—would not want their child to follow them into the profession, chiefly citing inadequate pay and benefits, job stress, and feeling disrespected or undervalued. The result matches a PDK poll finding in 2018 in which a nearly identical 54 percent of all adults said they wouldn’t want their child to become a public school teacher, a majority for the first time since the PDK poll began asking the question in 1969. Poor pay and benefits topped the list of reasons.
Teachers and parents don’t see eye-to-eye on every issue
The survey found many other shared views among teachers, parents, and the general public—but also some sharp differences. Most strikingly, while 29 percent of parents see pressure to do well on tests as a problem, this soars to 50 percent among teachers.
In another gap, teachers are more apt than parents to identify teaching citizenship, as opposed to academics or workforce preparation, as the chief aim of public education.
Teachers also are especially apt to favor requiring students to take a civics course.
Parents and the general public instead give top priority to preparing students academically. That said, there’s broad preference across groups for both job and academic preparation, not just one or the other.
Teachers and parents also part ways, to some extent, when it comes to state-issued report cards on school quality. Just half of teachers say these reports accurately represent the quality of schools; that rises to 64 percent among parents.
National School Boards Association (NSBA) response to the PDK poll
While citing encouraging aspects of the report, including the high marks parents give their children’s local schools, the NSBA noted increased investment and support of public schools are needed, as evidenced by teacher dissatisfaction displayed in poll results.
“High standards, accountability, and continuous innovation are part and parcel of a high-quality public education. It is with vision and commitment that school boards establish policies, programs, and procedures that create the foundation for students’ learning and achievement,” wrote NSBA Executive Director and CEO Thomas J. Gentzel in the NSBA statement in response to the 2019 PDK Poll result.
“Improving student outcomes, especially in schools in underserved communities, however, requires more than the status quo. With burgeoning student enrollment and the increased needs of a diverse student population, new investments are needed to create 21st century learning opportunities, modernize classrooms and school buildings and recruit and retain effective and adequately paid teachers and principals for every classroom and school. Parents and the general public agree that schools face financial challenges, and for the poll’s 18th consecutive year have named underfunding one of the biggest problems facing their community’s schools.”