Poll: Americans favor Obama’s school reforms

Teacher pay and economic stimulus

Types of schools and NCLB aside, most Americans seem to value good teachers.

Nearly three out of four Americans (both Republicans and Democrats) favor merit pay for teachers. Student academic achievement, administrator evaluations, and advanced degrees are the three most favored criteria for awarding merit pay, according to respondents.

Also, three out of four Americans believe there should be national standards for the certification of public school teachers and that beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate should earn more than they are currently paid by their community.

Americans also favor increasing the number of scholarships to college students who agree to teach science, math, and other technical subjects.

Finally, Americans believe that keeping teachers who were slated to be laid off should be the No. 1 priority in spending the economic stimulus funds, followed by providing support to the lowest-performing schools.

“Historically, parents have been a barrier to teacher recruitment, discouraging their children from entering the profession. Today, 70 percent of parents say they would like their children to become teachers, versus 40 percent in 1980,” says Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and former president and professor of education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

He continues, “Taken together, these results set the stage for the federal Race to the Top program and governors with stimulus funding to create comprehensive programs at the state level, where leverage and potential impact are greatest, to incorporate scholarships to attract the best and brightest to careers in teaching in the areas of highest need, and to provide incentives to universities to improve the quality of their teachers education programs in those fields.”

Dropouts, early childhood education, and innovation

For the first time, PDK/Gallup included questions to gauge if Americans agree that not completing high school is a serious problem, and what might be done to reduce the number of dropouts.

According to the poll, nearly nine out of 10 Americans believe the dropout rate in the U.S. is either the most important or one of the most important problems facing high schools today.

When asked what contributes to the dropout rate, eight out of 10 Americans linked it to students failing too many classes or leaving school to take a job or be a parent.

Offering more interesting classes was the suggestion offered most often by Americans when asked what could help reduce the dropout rate.

Offering more interesting classes correlates to another key finding of the poll relating to innovation in schools: When asked if public schools are moving in the right or the wrong direction, Americans are evenly split in their response, “strongly suggesting that they would be open to more innovation in schools,” says the report.

Those polled said better teachers and more parental support are the two main issues that are key in moving schools in the right direction, but lack of money was listed as the No. 1 obstacle to prevent schools from moving in the right direction.

Another solution that could help curb future dropouts is early childhood/preschool education, according to the poll.

The report states that Americans strongly endorse making either half-day or full-day kindergarten compulsory for all children, and nearly six out of 10 Americans would be willing to pay more taxes to fund free preschool programs for those children whose parents are unable to pay for them.

“I believe four factors have contributed to the rising approval rating of early learning programs,” says Barbara Bowman, chief officer for the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Early Childhood Education. “Penetration into the popular press and news media of neurobiological research communicating the importance of early brain development; education research demonstrating long-term individual and social benefits when children attend model preschool programs; economic analysis showing huge potential social and educational savings if children attend preschool programs; and the increase in working women leading more families to seek affordable child care.”

“The poll results appear to be a permission slip for the president’s education agenda,” concluded Bushaw during the press conference. “It provides a ringing endorsement for many of the administration’s planned changes that will be taken up in Congress next year as lawmakers debate what to do with the No Child Left Behind Act.”


PDK/Gallup poll 2009

National Education Association

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Stimulating Achievement resource center. Learn how to make wise spending decisions and keep track of school needs as stimulus funds become available. Go to: Stimulating Achievement