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Public Shows 'Tough Love' for Teachers in Annual PDK/Gallup Poll

Fifty-nine percent of all Americans and fifty-four percent of all public school parents are opposed to teacher tenure, according to a recent national poll.

Newly released data from the web survey portion of the 2015 PDK/Gallup poll show that the majority of Americans do not support tenure protections for teachers, even as sixty-two percent of public school parents said they have confidence in the nation's teachers. The survey included responses of a nationally representative sample of 3,499 Americans ages 18 and older.

National Response to Teacher Tenure

A strong majority of respondents—73 percent of Americans and 74 percent of public school parentswere also in favor of more extensive board certifications for teachers (akin to those in medicine and law) in addition to college degrees.       

At the same time, most respondents, including fifty-eight percent of all Americans and sixty-six percent of public school parents, supported the idea that teachers need to be paid more. Nearly half of public school parents also expressed that sufficient funds were crucial to improving the quality of public schools.

National Confidence in Nation's Public School Educator

Joan Richardson, the editor-in-chief of the education journal Phi Delta Kappan, said the poll results suggest that while the U.S. public appreciates and respects teachers, they also "expect more from the profession."  

"In a tough love message, ... the public also seems to be saying that elevating teaching into true professional status may require that teachers give up something they hold precious: tenure," said Richardson.

Richardson added that respondents who oppose tenure may have the perception that "tenure assures teachers of lifetime employment without accountability."

In a blog-post response to the findings, Joshua Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, said that many respondents may "frame the problem as a worst-case scenario: Tenure protected the teacher who was abusing children, or tenure prevented the principal from getting rid of ineffective teachers".

The initial results from PDK/Gallup, released in August, focused on public perceptions of testing and the Common Core State Standards, finding that, in general, Americans value teachers' grades and observations more highly than standardized tests as a way of measuring student progress.

The new findings, which are also broken down by respondents' race and political affiliations, are packaged with commentary by teachers Sean McComb and José Luis Vilson, among other experts.

McComb, a former National Teacher of the Year, makes the case that the survey focuses too much on issues relating to "entry and exit" from the teaching profession.

"While these are natural and potent gateways, and attractive points for policy to affect, they omit a practical reality for those of us in the classroom: Being a high-quality teacher is not a static label, but an ongoing and ever-changing process," he writes.

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