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Americans Trust and Support Teachers, But Most Do Not Want Their Children to Join the Profession, PDK Poll Finds

While most Americans have high trust and confidence in teachers, a majority also draw the line at wanting their own children to join a profession they see as undervalued and low-paid, according to a report released August 27 on the 50th annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. For the first time since 1969, a majority of respondents (54%) indicate they would not like their children to take up teaching in public schools as a career.


This year’s survey queried U.S. adults about a range of issues confronting education, including teacher pay and the teaching profession, school security, options for improving public schools, perceptions of opportunities for different groups of children, college affordability, the value of a college degree, and school schedules.

In the wake of activism by teachers across the country, an overwhelming 78% of public school parents say they would support teachers in their own communities if they went on strike for higher pay. Two-thirds of Americans say teacher salaries are too low, and very few Americans – just 6% of all adults – say teacher salaries are too high.

“It’s striking that after a year of high-profile teacher walk-outs – from West Virginia and Kentucky to Oklahoma and Arizona – Americans strongly believe we aren’t paying teachers enough,” said Joshua P. Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International. “Policymakers would be wise to pay attention to these numbers.”

Among other notable results in the survey include:

  • There is broad support for proposals to make college more affordable. Three-quarters of Americans support free tuition at community college – up sharply over the past few years. Sixty-eight percent support increasing federal funding to help students pay tuition at 4-year colleges. At the same time, little more than half of parents say they are at least somewhat likely to be able to pay for college for their own kids.
  • On the issue of educational equity, 60% prefer spending more on students who need extra support rather than spending the same amount on every student. But Americans are divided on where the money should come from: Half favor raising taxes to meet the additional need, while half say schools should spend less on students who need fewer resources. The public believes that a child’s educational opportunities vary based on family income, racial or ethnic group, and the type of community where they live.
  • About 4 in 10 give their local schools an A or B grade. But among parents of current students, 70 percent give their own child’s school an A or B grade.
  • Nearly 8 in 10 Americans prefer reforming the existing public school system rather than finding an alternative approach. That number is higher than in any year since the question was first asked two decades ago.

Many Ameri­cans (78%) want to improve public schools rather than find an alternative to the existing system. The majority preference for reforming rather than remaking the school system holds across demographic groups, although there are differ­ences. Most Hispanics (65%) prefer reform over alternatives versus 81% of blacks and 79% of whites. Among whites, the preference for reform peaks among white women with college degrees (87%) compared with white men who do not have college degrees (73%), with a 21-point gap in the strength of that sentiment. Liberals (83%) and moderates (80%) are more likely than conservatives (69%) to back reform. About one-quarter of con­servatives strongly prefers finding alternatives, compared with 1 in 10 liberals and 1 in 8 moderates.

“Issues of college affordability, school quality, and educational equity are critical issues for our nation’s schools,” Starr said. “It’s clear that most Americans believe we can do better for our students.”

Published as a supplement to Kappan magazine, the full 50th annual poll report is available online at pdkpoll.org. In July, PDK released a subset of the poll’s findings on school security questions, including whether parents believe their own children are safe at school and if teachers should be armed in the classroom. Click here for more information.

Source note: All images and content courtesy of PDK International

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Jerrica Thurman

Director of Marketing & Communications, AACTE