New poll reveals the politics and policies of education, with some surprises

picture of kids
Photo by Airman 1st Class Gustavo Castillo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In a broad look at some of the thorny issues in public education, a new nationwide poll from Harvard reveals the political chasms over education quality and spending – including higher teacher pay — as well as some surprises over controversial academic standards and testing.

Amid rising concerns about teacher pay across the country, those polled in the 2019 Education Next Poll of 3,046 adults were asked about public school salaries in their states. Overall, 56 percent said teacher pay should increase or greatly increase.

But the figure was only 43 percent for Republicans, compared to 64 percent for Democrats.

That said, “Support for teacher pay hikes is now higher than at any point since 2008,” according to the poll results and comparisons to prior years.  For example, the 56 percent of people who responded in the new poll that teachers should get higher pay was “a 20-percentage-point jump over the approval level seen just two years ago.”

The survey was done in May 2019 by a polling firm hired by the Education Next Institute. It included parents, teachers, Republicans, Democrats and people of different races, income and college education levels.

Those polled were asked to assign a grade to public schools across the nation — using letter grades of A through F – and the most common grade was a C. Only 24 percent of respondents gave A and B grades.

Even worse: Only 20 percent of Republicans gave A and B grades nationwide, compared to 27 percent of Democrats, according to the 2019 Education Next Poll. Education Next is a scholarly journal that examines school reform and is published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The poll also looked at academic standards and testing issues that have been controversial for several years now.

Support for Common Core – the set of reading and math academic standards that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed to eliminate – has been on the rebound, according to the new poll.

“Overall, 50% of Americans endorse use of the (Common Core) standards in their state, up from 41% two years ago. The resurgence in support is strongest among Republicans, leaping to 46% from 32% over the past two years,” according to the Education Next analysis.

The poll also included questions about state testing required in public schools as part of federal education law. That law requires reading and math testing in Grades 3 to 8 and once in high school. (Some grades also test students in science.)

Nationwide, some parents and educators have been irritated about all the testing and some families have even pulled their students out of school at testing time.

But asked in the new poll if respondents support or oppose the federal government’s testing requirements, 74 percent strongly supported or somewhat supported the testing regimen.

The poll also included higher education issues, such as whether public community colleges and four-year colleges and universities should make those schools free to attend.

Overall, 69 percent of those polled strongly supported or somewhat supported free community college, and 60 percent strongly or somewhat supported free public four-year colleges in the United States.

For the first time, the survey also included a sample of 415 high school students and their parents, to see whether kids and parents see eye-to-eye about the various education policy questions.

For example, kids graded their local public high schools, based on A and B grades, lower than mom and dad’s opinion.

The high school students also were less likely to support additional school security measures, such as more metal detectors and armed police officers at school, compared to what their parents think.

The 48-page survey can be viewed at: https://www.educationnext.org/files/2019ednextpoll.pdf

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