Strik­ing teach­ers earn high grades, poll shows

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Su­san Page, Merdie Nzanga and Caroline Si­mon

WASH­ING­TON – An es­ca­lat­ing number of teacher strikes across the coun­try last spring, now erupt­ing again as school re­sumes, has sparked a re­mark­able re­ac­tion from most Amer­i­cans: sup­port.

By close to 3-1, those sur­veyed by USA TO­DAY and Ip­sos Pub­lic Af­fairs said pub­lic school teach­ers have the right to strike, a view held even by the par­ents whose lives are most dis­rupted when teach­ers walk off the job. Six in 10 said teach­ers aren’t paid fairly, even though higher salaries for them might well mean big­ger bills for tax­pay­ers.

Those views by the pub­lic bol­ster the power of teach­ers to make de­mands of school dis­tricts and state leg­is­la­tures in what may sig­nal a new era of teacher ac­tivism.

The sur­vey of more than 2,000 adults na­tion­wide launches a USA TO­DAY project through the 2018-19 school year that will ex­plore the work, the de­mands and the fu­ture of teach­ing in the United States. It is a pro­fes­sion that faces evolv­ing chal­lenges, from the im­per­a­tive to raise scores on stan­dard­ized tests to the need to pro­tect stu­dents from the threat of mass school shoot­ings.

“We crim­i­nally un­der­pay teach­ers, and I think that they are not re­ally as re­spected as they should be,” said Daniel Galluppi, 39, a data man­ager from Pitts­burgh whose chil­dren at­tend pub­lic school. He was among those who

par­tic­i­pated in the poll. “They’re not just child care for chil­dren, but they’re teach­ing th­ese kids how to be suc­cess­ful and pro­duc­tive mem­bers of so­ci­ety.”

Fred­er­ick Wendt III, 72, a re­tired ho­tel man­ager from Ze­phyrhills, Florida, agreed. “I ba­si­cally think that ath­letes are over­paid and teach­ers are un­der­paid,” he said in a fol­low-up in­ter­view, a sen­ti­ment echoed by oth­ers sur­veyed.

Just 34 per­cent said pub­lic school teach­ers were paid fairly; 59 per­cent said they weren’t. Nearly eight in 10 said teach­ers have to spend too much of their own money on school sup­plies.

And poll re­spon­dents saw ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing as money well spent. More than two-thirds said pub­lic schools were worth the tax money that goes into them.

The on­line poll, taken Aug. 9-13, has a cred­i­bil­ity in­ter­val of plus or mi­nus 4 per­cent­age points.

Teach­ers rally

Ear­lier this year, teach­ers staged statewide strikes in West Vir­ginia, Ari­zona and Ok­la­homa, and they ral­lied in Ken­tucky, North Carolina and Colorado, clos­ing some of the big­gest schools. Teach­ers in about a dozen Wash­ing­ton state dis­tricts walked off the job as classes re­sumed, though many have since gone back to work.

In Los An­ge­les, the na­tion’s sec­ond­largest school dis­trict, teach­ers have voted to au­tho­rize a strike if ne­go­tia­tors can’t come to an agree­ment. A walk­out there could come as early as next month.

Most of the strikes this spring came in con­ser­va­tive states that tend to have weaker unions and lower spend­ing on ed­u­ca­tion.

That red-state re­volt pushed some Repub­li­can of­fi­cials to defy party or­tho­doxy by en­dors­ing in­creased spend­ing and higher taxes.

In a na­tion that some­times seems split along par­ti­san lines on ev­ery­thing, Democrats and Repub­li­cans have sim­i­lar out­looks on most is­sues in­volv­ing teach­ers – even on the con­tro­ver­sial ques­tion of strikes. Democrats by an over­whelm­ing 78 per­cent to 17 per­cent said teach­ers have the right to strike. Most Repub­li­cans agreed, al­beit by a closer 56 per­cent to 35 per­cent.

That said, some op­posed the blunt weapon of a walk­out, which costs chil­dren class­room time and of­ten leave par­ents scram­bling for day care. “I went through two strikes with my kids,” re­called Carol Kul­man, 76, a re­tired med­i­cal re­searcher from New York City. “I re­ally don’t think that’s the an­swer.”

The sup­port ex­pressed for teach­ers doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late to their unions.

Those sur­veyed were di­vided on whether teach­ers’ unions im­prove the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion: 48 per­cent said they did; 35 per­cent said they didn’t. On that, there was a sharp par­ti­san split. Democrats by 43 per­cent­age points said teach­ers’ unions im­prove the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion; Repub­li­cans by 14 points said they didn’t.

Even among Democrats, who tend to be more sup­port­ive of or­ga­nized la­bor, six of 10 said teach­ers’ unions make it harder to fire bad teach­ers. So did three of four Repub­li­cans.

“I think there are bad teach­ers that are al­lowed to con­tinue in ed­u­ca­tion when they shouldn’t be al­lowed to,” said Lanaya Gore, 39, a mother in San An­to­nio, Texas, who home-schools her chil­dren. The unions “keep the bad teach­ers in,” she said.

That said, teach­ers’ unions got a high over­all ap­proval rat­ing, 60 per­cent, just about the same as the 61 per­cent that lo­cal school dis­trict lead­ers re­ceived. Views of the lead­er­ship of the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion were much less fa­vor­able: 44 per­cent ap­proved, 43 per­cent dis­ap­proved.

Most pos­i­tive of all were as­sess­ments of teach­ers them­selves. Three of four Amer­i­cans, 76 per­cent, ap­proved of the teach­ers in their lo­cal dis­trict; just one in 10 dis­ap­proved.

Teach­ing is among the most revered pro­fes­sions in the United States.

A pre­vi­ous USA TO­DAY/Ip­sos Poll this year, pegged to the Fourth of July, asked re­spon­dents to rate what was best about Amer­ica. School teach­ers ranked third, trail­ing only nurses and “kind­ness to strangers,” and ahead of the Found­ing Fathers and po­lice of­fi­cers. (Way down the list: politi­cians, bankers, ac­tors and jour­nal­ists.)

Among those with kids younger than 18 years old, six in 10 par­ents said they would en­cour­age their chil­dren to be­come teach­ers.

“They have quite the job, trying to take care of ev­ery­one and be­ing with our chil­dren for eight hours a day,” said Les­lie Bai­ley, 33, an event man­ager from Ohio who has one child in preschool. “

“The at­ti­tudes of kids nowa­days is es­pe­cially ter­ri­ble,” said Aaron Slepko, 37, of Nor­ton, Ohio. “Teach­ers get the blunt end, and if they say any­thing, sud­denly par­ents jump down their throats and they’re in trou­ble.”

The at­tri­tion rate for be­gin­ning teach­ers un­der­scores the dif­fi­cul­ties of the job. The non­profit Learn­ing Pol­icy In­sti­tute es­ti­mates that 20 to 30 per­cent of teach­ers leave the field within their first five years.

In the new USA TO­DAY/Ip­sos poll, just one-third agreed with the state­ment, “It is easy to be­come a teacher.” But nearly six in 10 agreed with this: “If I wanted to, I would be an ex­cel­lent teacher.”


A poll found sup­port, by close to 3-1, for pub­lic school teach­ers hav­ing the right to strike.

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