Public Opinion on Education Issues

Education

For the last 46 years, Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) and Gallup have conducted a public opinion poll on issues in K-12 education. The 2014 poll was released this morning, and it reveals that a majority of Americans want teachers to be better trained, to have a board certification similar to that required for lawyers and doctors, and not to be evaluated based on student standardized test scores, but current education policy does not reflect these opinions.

In response to a question that asked, “How much time should a person who is preparing to become a teacher spend practicing teaching under the guidance of a certified teacher before assuming responsibility for his or her own class?” 44 percent of respondents said one year, compared to 27 percent that said two years, 23 percent that said six months, and only 4 percent that said six weeks. These numbers are largely the same for republican, democrat, and independent respondents. But current federal education policy allows anyone currently participating in a training program to be responsible for his or her own class, otherwise known as being the teacher of record. This means individuals who have only been in training for six weeks, or even only one week or less, are allowed to be the teacher of record with no oversight from other teachers. Additionally, proposed budgets from the U.S. Department of Education repeatedly asked for the elimination of Teacher Quality Partnership grants, which is a grant program for colleges of teacher education that partner with high need schools to provide better trained teachers for those schools. Though small at only around $41 million per year, this grant is the only federal initiative of it’s kind.

Similarly, 61 percent of respondents oppose the inclusion of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation. Looking at it by party, 50 percent of republicans, 68 percent of democrats, and 63 percent of independents oppose the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation. The American Statistical Association also recently advised caution in using value-added measures (VAM), which are based on standardized test scores, for teacher evaluation. Yet states are implementing teacher evaluation systems that include standardized test scores, and in many cases also include VAM. This requirement was included in state waivers to the No Child Left Behind Act, though the Department of Education recently allowed states to delay implementing this provision by one year. However, some states have already implemented teacher evaluation systems based on standardized test scores.

A large majority, 81 percent of respondents, also reported that they “believe teachers should be required to pass a board certification in addition to earning a degree.” There is a National Board Certification for teachers, but it is voluntary and only about 100,000 of 3 million teachers are board certified. Additionally, though most teachers are licensed or certified by their state, black students are 7 times more likely and Hispanic students are twice as likely to be enrolled in schools where more than 20 percent of teachers are not certified.

With current education policy at the federal level and in many states so out of alignment with public opinion, it is unsurprising that a significant percentage of respondents replied that schools in their communities were not changing enough. A total of 49 percent responded that high school and middle schools are not changing quickly enough, compared to 32 percent who said middle schools and high schools don’t need to change. The numbers are much closer for elementary school – 42 percent responded that elementary schools in their community were not changing enough, while 42 percent also responded that these schools don’t need to change. The desire for local high schools and middle schools to change could be a result of the mismatch between public opinion and education policy described above, though the poll does not elaborate on these questions any further.

It is clear that public education policy and public opinion is disconnected. Changing many of these policies, such as teacher training and board certification, would not only bring policy in line with public opinion but also improve academic outcomes and close opportunity and achievement gaps between students of color and their white peers, as well as students from low-income families and their wealthier peers.