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Survey Finds Parents Mixed on Schools, Teachers' Unions, Improvement Strategies

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A new national survey released Thursday found that while most parents and grandparents are satisfied with their community schools, they are split on their support for teachers' unions and aren't sure what path schools should take to improve.

According to the Education Post survey 77 percent of parents and grandparents are either satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their children's school. But almost two-thirds, or 61 percent, believe their children's schools need to "get better." That might be because in another question, 73 percent of the respondents said they were "very worried or worried" that their children's education won't prepare them for "success in today's world."

Peter Cunningham, executive director of Education Post, said in a press release that the poll shows that parents want their schools to improve.

"Anyone arguing for standing still or retreating is completely at odds with the majority of parents," he added.

The survey, which was conducted by Douglas E. Schoen, LLC in August and September, examined the responses of 1,800 parents and grandparents of children ages 3 to 18. The telephone poll found that 89 percent of respondents had children attending traditional public schools or charter schools.

Education Post is a Chicago-based nonprofit education communications group led by Cunningham, a former aide to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Education Week's Mark Walsh reported last month that the group hopes to dial down the "toxic" debates surrounding national education improvement efforts. 

The survey paints a murky picture about parents' views toward teachers. While the majority of parents—53 percent—say they have favorable or somewhat favorable opinions about teachers' unions, they also overwhelmingly support reforming (84 percent) or eliminating teacher tenure (63 percent) as a strategy to improve schools. Eliminating tenure received the least amount of support among school improvement strategies that included adopting more rigorous academic standards, holding principals and teachers more accountable, and increasing the number of charter school options. Roughly a third of survey respondents supported a complete overhaul of their children's school system.

Ultimately, the poll found parents were divided about teachers' unions. See chart below: 

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In an email, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten took aim at Education Post, saying that the poll's results are indicative of what she called "a Walton-backed group intent on undermining public education."

Education Week reported that Education Post's initial funding—$12 million—comes from the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the New York City-based Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bentonville, Ark.-based Walton Family Foundation, and an anonymous donor. (The Broad Foundation provides support to Education Week for coverage of personalized learning and system leadership; the Walton Family Foundation supports coverage of parent-empowerment issues, which includes this blog.)

Weingarten added that Education Post, which she said was created under the auspices of changing the education reform conversation is "doing exactly the opposite—crafting a poll with the same tired messages; never asking, for instance, whether funding is a problem; and ignoring the things we know teachers need to do their jobs: time, tools and trust." 

In response to Weingarten's comments, Education Post's Cunningham said in an email: "Parents support school improvement. Let's do it together."

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