Vox Populi

by Robert Pondiscio
August 25th, 2010

The 4th annual Education Next poll shows a sharp divide between teachers and the general public on merit pay, teacher tenure, Race to the Top, and a host of other hot-button education issues.  The poll, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard shows

“most Americans support merit pay for teachers, while teachers oppose the policy by a large margin; there is strong opposition among the public to teacher tenure, while teachers favor it; and teachers are significantly more opposed to the federal RttT program than the broader public.”

No surprises here.  Teacher tenure will never make sense to those who don’t enjoy that kind of job security.  And merit pay will always have an intuitive appeal.  Who can begrudge the standouts in any field deserve more. 

Here’s a poll question I’d like to see asked: 

In general, do you feel your child’s teachers spend too much time, too little time, or the right amount of time preparing students for standardized state tests?

Or this one:

Please indicate whether you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly agree with the following statement: my child’s school places too much emphasis on standardized tests.

Just a hunch, but I suspect a majority of Americans would express reservations about the amount of test prep their children endure–at least those with kids in the prime testing grades 3 through 8–and the degree to which testing dominates elementary education.  If so, this might skewer Ed Next’s finding that “support for ‘basing a teacher’s salary, in part, on his or her students’ academic progress on state tests’ jumped five percentage points in one year, increasing from 44 percent in 2007 to 49 percent in 2010. 

Another figure that jumped out at me:  everyone “knows” that teachers are the weakest link in the chain and that attacking teacher unions is a political winner.  Maybe not.   More people believe teacher unions are “blocking school reform rather than helping it,” but the margin is slim, 33 to 28 percent.  “But 39 percent take no position at all,” says Ed Next.

Other interesting data points in the Ed Next poll:

  • Growing support for online schooling.  The percentage of Americans in favor of allowing high school students to take a course on the Internet increased from 42 percent to 52 percent in the last year. 
  • Support for charter schools “remained essentially unchanged between 2008 and 2010—rising from 42 percent to 44 percent, while opposition increased from just 16 to 19 percent.”
  • While 45 percent of the American public supported vouchers in 2007, only 31 percent did so in 2010. 

 “When it comes to school choice, charters and learning on the Internet are ‘in,’ while vouchers are ‘out,’” notes Harvard’s Paul E. Peterson, the editor-in-chief of Education Next.

My humble request for my friends at Ed Next.  How about a few questions next year on curriculum?  It would be intriguing to learn what Americans think about the content of their children’s education and how they feel it compares to their own.


  1. I’d like to see parent opinions on REAL math (Singapore style) and phonics/grammar/spelling/composition – most parents I’ve known want these things, even though the schools often don’t. I’d also like to see how much tutoring – parent or paid – is happening; I’ve always had the strong feeling that schools are deliberately ignorant of this area.

    Comment by anonymous — August 25, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

  2. Anonymous, schools are not ignorant of tutoring. Quite on the contrary. I know of two examples in my local elementary school when teachers actively discouraged parents to sign up their for Kumon and Russian School tutoring. A third example when a teacher rolled her eyes on the notion of Russian School (that was disappointing to me, as this particular teacher is one of the best the school has). And three more examples when teachers were informed ahead of time about the parent’s choice to use the Russian School but did not express an opinion either way.

    In my opinion, even if teachers favor outside tutoring, they will keep it to themselves for fear that any endorsement can be interpreted as ‘it’s the schools fault that not enough is done in class’. In a highly politicized and simmering atmosphere where some parents do take it on themselves to fire off all sorts of strange accusations or to threaten lawsuits on a whim for this or other pet cause, it is decidedly the least risky path for the teachers.

    Comment by andrei radulescu-banu — August 25, 2010 @ 11:15 pm

  3. I know of a highly-affluent/educated suburb where 50% of first-graders are tutored (Kumon, private, parent etc) and it is common for teachers to tutor students from their own school. The schools are “unaware of this (outside tutoring) issue”, which, if true, almost has to be a deliberate effort. Assuredly, some of the tutoring is of the “get ahead of the Jonses” variety, but some is in response to weak curriculum choices in the schools. Specifically, there was so much community unhappiness with their former reform math curriculum that the schools recently changed to Singapore. The local Kumon etc. admitted that the change would affect their programs and marketing. I also have a problem with teachers tutoring their own students for pay.

    Comment by Anonymous — August 26, 2010 @ 9:31 am

  4. The reason charters are learning on the Internet is because there IS a curriculum.

    Comment by Cindy — September 1, 2010 @ 3:42 am

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