“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.”
When it comes to the contentious issue of whether seniority should be the basis for layoffs, for instance – a current lightning rod in many states and districts – most respondents say that multiple factors should be used, and that the principal's evaluation of a teacher's performance should be given the most weight.
Not surprisingly, Americans are split largely on partisan lines in terms of how they view teachers' unions as well as how they view the disputes in states like Wisconsin and Ohio between governors and teachers' unions.
Unions, however, took some comfort in the fact that more Americans favor the unions than the governor in those disputes (52 percent to 44 percent), and also that, whatever they think of unions, Americans seem to be united in their good opinion of teachers.
“In an environment where a lot of my members feel under attack, I think they will take great heart that the public really does believe they know what they’re doing and care about kids,” says Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association.
When asked to grade the teachers in their community, 69 percent of those polled gave them an A or a B, compared with 50 percent in 1984.
In a statement, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten also lauded the strong support for teachers that the poll found, saying it “is all the more heartening given that more than two-thirds of respondents say they hear more bad news about education than good news.” As for the poll’s findings on opinion of unions, she criticized the question, noting that it is “framed in a way that implies union work is limited to narrow issues of compensation and working conditions.”