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Support For Teacher Pay Raises Increases

After a year of strikes the public is more willing to increase teacher pay, but will elected officials listen?

Posted on
Aug 21, 2018

Following a year of teachers strikes, support for increasing their pay has risen by 13 points. Find out more from Ed Next's Annual survey.

Education’s political landscape has shifted dramatically over the past year. To the consternation of most school-district officials, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos used the bully pulpit to promote charter schools, vouchers, and tax credits for private-school scholarships. To the distress of teachers unions, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Illinois law requiring government workers who elect not to become union members to pay representation fees. To the chagrin of civil-rights groups, the U.S. Department of Education said that it was reviewing a letter sent to school districts by the Obama administration informing them that they were at risk of incurring a civil-rights violation if students of color were suspended or expelled more often than their peers. To the relief of Common Core enthusiasts, the politically charged debate over the standards moved to the back burner. And to the dismay of parents, teachers, and policymakers across the political spectrum, students demonstrated almost no gains in reading and math on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) over the 2015 test.

All these events were consequential, but none penetrated into the thinking of the American public as sharply as did teacher strikes in six southern and western states. Those walkouts seem to have lent new urgency to teacher demands for salary raises and increased financial support for schools.

The status of public opinion on these and other topics comprises the 12th annual Education Next (EdNext) survey of public opinion, administered in May 2018. The poll’s nationally representative sample of 4,601 adults includes an oversampling of parents, teachers, African Americans, and those who identify themselves as Hispanic. (All estimates of results are adjusted for non-response and oversampling of specific populations. See methods sidebar for further details.)

On several issues, our analysis teases out nuances in public opinion by asking variations of questions to randomly selected segments of survey participants. Respondents were divided at random into two or more segments, with each group asked a different version of the same general question. For example, we told half of the respondents—but not the other half—how much the average teacher in their state was paid before asking them whether they thought salaries should be increased, be decreased, or remain about the same. By comparing the differences in the opinions of the two groups, we are able to estimate the extent to which relevant information influences public thinking as to the desirability of a pay increase.

Some of the key findings from the poll are:

1. Teacher salaries. Among those provided with information on average teacher salaries prevailing in their state, 49% of the public say the pay should increase—a 13-percentage-point jump over the share who said so last year. Sixty-three percent of respondents in the six states that experienced teacher strikes in early 2018 favor boosting teacher pay, as compared to 47% elsewhere.

2. School spending. Among those provided information about current spending levels in their local school districts, 47% say that spending should increase, an increase of 7 percentage points over the prior year.

3. Agency fees. In June 2018, the Supreme Court reached a decision favored by majorities of the public and of teachers when it ruled that states could not allow public-employee unions to impose agency fees to cover collective-bargaining costs on workers who do not join unions. No less than 56% of the general public and 56% of public-school teachers oppose laws that require “all teachers” to “pay fees for union representation even if they choose not to join the union.” Only 25% of the public and 34% of teachers favor agency fees.

4. Union and nonunion teachers. Opinions on various issues differ widely between public-school teachers who join unions and those who do not. Nonunion members are 20 percentage points more likely to support annual testing in reading and math, charter schools, and universal school vouchers. Union members are at least 20 percentage points more likely to support increasing school spending (when informed of current spending levels), increasing teacher salaries, and giving teachers tenure; they are also more satisfied with union political activities and view collective-bargaining contracts more favorably. However, on some topics—merit pay, Common Core, school-discipline practices, and affirmative action in school assignment policies—the views of union and nonunion members do not differ significantly.

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