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Calif. Voters Support Teachers, Encourage Joining the Profession, Survey Finds

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The majority of California voters would encourage a young person to become a teacher, citing the ability to make a difference in children's lives.

A new survey, which was led by two researchers from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education and conducted by the Policy Analysis for California Education in August, asked 1,202 California voters about their views on public education and the teaching profession. This is the fifth year the survey has been conducted. 

This year's results were encouraging: 71 percent of voters would encourage a young person they knew to become a teacher, mostly because of the ability to make a difference, but also citing respect from the community and good retirement and benefits. 

Only 8 percent of voters would discourage a young person from becoming a teacher. Salary was the No. 1 reason why, followed by undisciplined students and overcrowded students.

The teaching profession, plagued by low salaries and dwindling moralehas taken a few hits recently from people reluctant to become or encourage others to become an educator. Just 4 percent of 2015 high school graduates who took the ACT exam said they planned to become teachers, counselors, or administrators—in 2010, that number was 7 percent. And a recent ASQ poll showed that 87 percent of parents would be "concerned" if their children became a STEM teacher. 

Last year, award-wining teacher Nancie Atwell made headlines by advising young people to not become public school teachers, saying the profession has been "constrained" by the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and schools' emphasis on standardized testing. 

"Counter to the dominant narrative we've been hearing for some time, these results indicate widespread respect for and recognition of the value of the teaching profession," said Julie Marsh, a co-director of PACE and an associate professor of education at USC, in a statement about this most recent California poll.

In other interesting results: Nearly all respondents said it was important for teachers to contribute to students' learning and get students to work hard and try their best. Most respondents also said it was important for teachers to maintain classroom discipline and provide students with a love for learning.

Just 59 percent said it was important for teachers to help improve students' scores on standardized achievement tests—a much lower percentage than those who supported teachers' skills regarding classroom environment and students' social and emotional health. 

Sixty-eight percent of voters said they believe there is a teacher shortage in California, and paying teachers more was the most common solution given, followed by improving teachers' working conditions. Seventy-seven percent of voters support paying teachers more if they teach in subjects where there are shortages (commonly mathematics, science, and special education), and 79 percent support increasing the starting salary for new teachers.

Again, just 60 percent of respondents support paying teachers more if their students demonstrate greater knowledge gains on state tests—less support than all the other proposed policies received. 

"In many ways, voter sentiment in California reflects the broader, national backlash against high-stakes testing and a newer discourse around educational improvement equating to more than simply raising test scores," Marsh said. 

A beginning teacher's starting salary in California is about $40,000, with some districts paying new teachers much more. The average for experienced teachers is close to $80,000. According to the Los Angeles Times, in 2015, there were nearly 43,000 teacher vacancies across the state. 

Source: Image by Flickr user www.audio-luci-store.it, licensed under Creative Commons

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