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Americans love teachers but split over teachers’ unions, poll shows

Americans show strong support for public-school teachers, according to a new poll. But a partisan divide exists over the role of teachers' unions.

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Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, have at least a few things they can agree on in education reform, according to a new poll released Wednesday: They have confidence in teachers – and believe the nation should be doing its utmost to recruit and encourage good ones – and they want more choice in what public schools or charters their children can attend.

In other areas, particularly when it comes to unions and collective bargaining, their attitudes are more split.

This year, among other topics, the poll plumbed people’s opinions on teachers, unions, and how teachers should be evaluated and compensated – all issues in the news. This is the 43rd year that Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) and Gallup have conducted the survey of Americans’ opinions on public schools, including both new and old questions each year.

“There is strong support among the public for public-school teachers, but there is growing concern expressed in the poll for the role of unions,” notes Tom Toch, cofounder of Education Sector, a nonpartisan think tank. He says the difference shows “bit of a disconnect.”

Forty-seven percent of respondents say unionization has hurt the quality of public education in America, compared with 38 percent in 1976, the last time the question was asked. The number of Americans who say unionization has helped has jumped slightly, too – from 22 percent to 26 percent – and far fewer Americans (just 2 percent, compared with 13 percent in 1976) have no opinion on the subject.

“I think Americans perceive that the teachers' unions are protecting bad teachers,” says William Bushaw, executive director of PDK International. “And Americans, if anything, want high-quality teachers.”

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