Parents overwhelmingly believe that public schools are the single most important institution for the future of their community and of our nation, and they choose strong neighborhood public schools over expanding choice, charters and vouchers, according to a nationwide AFT poll released July 22. Support for strong public schools over expanded vouchers and charters is widespread, with 77 percent supporting this approach, and that support cuts across political and class lines.
Public school parents also soundly reject the austerity-driven policies being pushed in schools. More than two-thirds of parents see the following as reducing the quality of public education: teacher and staff layoffs; increased class sizes; school closings; high turnover rates; and cutbacks in art, music, libraries and physical education. And a 57 percent majority feel there is too much emphasis on testing today. Parents see adoption of common academic standards as a step forward for education by 72 percent to 22 percent.
When asked, parents want schools to do four things to help their children prepare to succeed in college and their careers: improve their knowledge and critical-thinking abilities; provide them with a safe learning environment; educate them about their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy; and address their social, emotional and health needs.
"We believe in high-quality public education because it is an economic necessity, an anchor of democracy, a moral imperative and a fundamental civil right," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "And this poll makes clear that not only do parents overwhelmingly believe in the promise of public education to help all children reach their dreams, their prescription for how to reclaim that promise matches what America's teachers want for their students and schools. And when teachers and parents join together, we can be an unstoppable force to fulfill the promise of education as a pathway to opportunity for all children."
The poll also showed that parents trust teachers, principals and other parents—not politicians and business executives—to have the right ideas for their schools. And, by a 2 to 1 margin, parents say we need elected officials who can work with teachers unions rather than officials who will stand up to teachers unions.
The poll was released as the AFT announced a major effort at the AFT TEACH conference in Washington, D.C., to partner with parents and community to reclaim the promise of public education.
"Reclaiming the promise of public education is about fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning," Weingarten said in her keynote speech at TEACH announcing the effort. "Reclaiming the promise is about ensuring that teachers are well-prepared, are supported and have time to collaborate. Reclaiming the promise is about enabling them to teach an engaging curriculum that includes art and music and the sciences. And reclaiming the promise is about ensuring that kids have access to wraparound services to meet their emotional, social and health needs."
The poll, conducted July 9-14, 2013, by Hart Research Associates, interviewed 1,003 parents living in urban, suburban and rural areas and who identify themselves as Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
Highlights of the nationwide parent poll:
- Best approach for improving education: 77 percent said the focus should be on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in his or her community; just 20 percent said there should be more public charter schools and vouchers.
- Offer variety of subjects or devote more time to reading and math: 74 percent said it is important for schools to offer a well-rounded curriculum, including art, music and physical education; only 18 percent said schools should focus more on teaching reading and math and spend less time on subjects less important for success in college.
- Focus on the "whole child" or stick to the basics: 54 percent said schools should focus on teaching the whole child, including his or her emotional and social development as well as academics; 35 percent said schools should focus on teaching basic academics.
- Emphasis on testing:
- 57 percent said there is too much testing; 29 percent said there is the right amount; and 8 percent said there is not enough.
- 64 percent said their state's standardized tests do not accurately measure student achievement; 28 percent said they do.
- 59 percent of parents said their child has felt worried or anxious about taking standardized tests.
- 57 percent said testing has taken away too much time from teaching and learning.
- Overwhelming parental support for the following elements of an education agenda: Provide extra resources to turn around struggling neighborhood schools; hold charter schools accountable; provide more support/training for struggling teachers; expand/improve new-teacher mentoring; reduce class sizes, especially in the early grades; make public schools hubs of the neighborhood with longer hours, academic help and health services for families; provide extra pay for teachers in hard-to-staff schools; and ensure access to high-quality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds.
- Parental disapproval of the following "reforms":
- 79 percent disapprove of reducing salaries and benefits for teachers and other school employees.
- 76 percent object to reducing spending on regular public schools and increasing spending on charters.
- 61 percent oppose closing down low-performing public schools and assigning students to other schools.
- 60 percent reject ending additional teacher pay for advanced degrees.
- 58 percent disapprove of a longer school day; 53 percent oppose a longer school year.
- 56 percent oppose taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school tuition.
- Who has right ideas for public education: 81 percent of parents said they believe teachers have the right ideas for their public schools; 77 percent said principals have the right ideas; 70 percent gave the nod to parent organizations; 39 percent said their governor has the right ideas; 37 percent had confidence in mayors/local officials; and 33 percent said business owners/corporate executives have the right ideas.
View a PowerPoint presentation about the results. [AFT press release]
July 22, 2013