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Teachers versus the Public

Teachers versus the Public: What Americans Think about Schools and How to Fix Them

Paul E. Peterson
Michael Henderson
Martin R. West
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 177
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  • Book Info
    Teachers versus the Public
    Book Description:

    A comprehensive exploration of 21st Century school politics,Teachers versus the Publicoffers the first comparison of the education policy views of both teachers and the public as a whole, and reveals a deep, broad divide between the opinions held by citizens and those who teach in the public schools. Among the findings:

    • Divisions between teachers and the public are wider and deeper than differences between other groups often thought to contest school policy, such as Republicans and Democrats, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, or African Americans and whites.

    • The teacher-public gap is widest on such issues as merit pay, teacher tenure reform, impact of teacher unions, school vouchers, charter schools, and requirements to test students annually.

    • Public support for school vouchers for all students, charter schools, and parent trigger laws increases sharply when people are informed of the national ranking of student performance in their local school district.

    • Public willingness to give local schools high marks, its readiness to support higher spending levels, and its support for teacher unions all decline when the public learns the national ranking of their local schools.

    • On most issues, teacher opinion does not change in response to new information nearly as much as it does for the public as a whole. In fact, the gap between what teachers and the public think about school reform grows even wider when both teachers and the public are given more information about current school performance, current expenditure levels, and current teacher pay.

    The book provides the first experimental study of public and teacher opinion. Using a recently developed research strategy, the authors ask differently worded questions about the same topic to randomly chosen segments of representative groups of citizens. This approach allows them to identify the impact on public opinion of new information on issues such as student performance and school expenditures in each respondent's community.

    The changes in public opinion when citizens receive information about school performance are largest in districts that perform below the national average. Altogether, the results indicate that support for many school reforms would increase if common core state standards were established and implemented in such a way as to inform the public about the quality of their local schools. These and many other findings illuminate the distance between teacher opinions and those of the public at large.

    About the Research:In partnership with the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and the journal, Education Next, authors Paul E. Peterson, Martin West and Michael Henderson surveyed nationally representative samples of teachers and the public as a whole annually between 2007 and 2013.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2553-4
    Subjects: Education, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Paul E. Peterson, Michael Henderson and Martin R. West
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Education Iron Triangle
    (pp. 1-14)

    When Chicago teachers closed the city’s schools for seven days in September 2012, their demands went beyond the usual. In addition to asking for a salary increase, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) objected to a longer school day, teacher evaluations based on student test scores, merit pay, and the creation of additional charter schools. Two years earlier, Karen Lewis had overthrown—by a 60 percent margin—CTU’s reigning leadership. She and a number of other teachers had previously read Naomi Klein’sShock Doctrine, a breathless exposé of the privatization of public sector operations in nations across the globe. The group...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Teacher-Public Divide
    (pp. 15-30)

    Teacher policy, parental choice, school accountability, taxes, and spending: all that and more have been tossed into the crucible that forges the politics of American education. The questions under debate are nearly endless: How much should be spent on education? How should teachers be paid? Should students and schools be held accountable? Should teachers have tenure to protect them from losing their jobs? Should families have government assistance that helps them pay the cost of attending private schools? Should more charter schools be allowed to open?

    Our surveys do not cover every conceivable topic, but they cut a broad swath....

  6. CHAPTER THREE Other Social Divisions
    (pp. 31-44)

    The gap between the thinking of teachers and the public as a whole may be wide, but other opinion gaps compete for the attention of policy analysts and political leaders. For some, education politics is first and foremost an extension of the culture wars.¹ For others, it is a by-product of class politics, with well-heeled suburbanites resisting measures to use their tax dollars to equalize spending across school district lines.² Often, education conflict is cast in generational terms: will senior citizens support adequate education funding even though they have no school-age children, or do they want government funding to be...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR My Back Yard
    (pp. 45-56)

    Perhaps the divide between the general public and teachers shrinks when people are asked about schools in their local community. It could be that public thinking about local schools reflects direct experiences with the schools or is shaped by conversations with friends and neighbors, while its opinions about the nation’s schools are shaped more by ideological speculation or by news reports about troubled schools in other places. People might endorse policies proposed for the nation as a whole that they would reject out of hand if proposed for local schools. Both teachers and the public may think differently about educational...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Information Corrodes
    (pp. 57-74)

    Iron remains perpetually strong in the absence of oxygen, but when exposed to the open air, it begins to rust and disintegrate. In politics, the iron triangle survives by means of closed doors, secret meetings, quiet negotiations, and unidentified financial contributions. When the public becomes better informed, fresh air corrodes the iron triangle. As the nation witnessed the spectacular collapse of some of its largest financial houses in 2008, calls for more financial regulation increased. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act soon followed. Similarly, when the public learned of serious damage to beaches and wildlife in the...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Further Oxidization
    (pp. 75-92)

    Just as the education iron triangle benefits from lack of transparency about school expenditures and teacher salaries, so too does it draw strength from the perception that local schools are performing at an acceptable level.¹ Americans do not have a false sense of complacency about the educational performance of the nation as a whole. They know that as many as one student in four fails to graduate from high school on the expected schedule. They also know that the performance of American students in key subjects like mathematics lags behind that of their peers in many other countries. When we...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Divisions Within
    (pp. 93-106)

    Two years before Rahm Emmanuel’s reform proposals provoked a teacher strike in Chicago, New York City (NYC) mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his plans for “ending tenure as we know it.” The NYC school system had come under fire for granting tenure to teachers without adequate assessment of their competence. Awarded at the end of three years of teaching, tenure made it extremely difficult for school administrators to fire low-performing teachers and eventually gave rise to the school system’s notorious “rubber room” for warehousing egregiously incompetent teachers who nonetheless continued to draw their salaries. After a more stringent performance assessment process...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Future of the Education Iron Triangle
    (pp. 107-124)

    Various objections can be raised to the arguments advanced in this volume. In this concluding chapter we consider four of the most significant:

    The questions dictated the results.

    Teacher opinion means little because teachers lack the power to block policies that the public truly desires.

    Surveys do not capture political reality.

    Reforms will be ineffective without teacher support. After responding to each objection we turn our attention to the future of the education iron triangle.

    Many of the questions posed in your surveys focus on such matters as teacher compensation, tenure, and recruitment; school choice; and school accountability. While the...

  12. APPENDIX A: Data Collection and Analysis
    (pp. 125-133)
  13. APPENDIX B: Selected Survey Questions, 2007–13
    (pp. 134-145)
  14. APPENDIX C: Detailed Responses to Questions in Tables 2-2 and A-1
    (pp. 146-154)
  15. Note to Reader
    (pp. 155-156)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 157-168)
  17. Index
    (pp. 169-178)
    (pp. 179-180)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-181)