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Voters Say Focus of Teacher's Unions are Jobs, not Education

Debate ran high within Barack Obama’s transition team over whether the next secretary of Education should be a traditionalist in sync with the national teachers’ unions or a reformer who will help break the hold those unions have on Democratic Party policy. Obama's choice of Chicago School Superintendent Arne Duncan is seen as a move to bridge those competing camps.

But two-thirds of U.S. voters (66%) say the teachers’ unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – are more interested in protecting their members’ jobs than in the quality of education.

Only 23% of voters say educational quality comes first for the unions, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided.

Men and women are equally critical of the teacher’s unions. Married voters are more critical than unmarrieds by 12 points. Seventy percent (70%) of voters with children at home think the unions are more interested in jobs, compared to 63% of those without children in the house.

While 78% of Republicans and 66% of unaffiliated voters say teachers’ jobs are the chief focus of the unions, only 55% of Democrats agree.

In a Labor Day survey posted on September 1, 55% of Americans had at least a somewhat favorable opinion of labor unions. Thirty-five percent (35%) viewed them negatively.
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Sixty-six percent (66%) of voters also believe the secretary of Education should be an advocate for students rather than teachers, but 19% say teachers should be the secretary’s priority. Fifteen percent (15%) aren’t sure.

Younger voters are more likely to think the Cabinet secretary should be an advocate for teachers than older voters do. Across all other categories including race and political affiliation, two-thirds of voters say the secretary is intended to be a champion of students.

Over half of voters (55%) believe teachers are paid too little, while eight percent (8%) think they receive too much. Thirty-three percent (33%) say teachers are paid about the right amount for the jobs they do. Five percent (5%) are undecided. These numbers are consistent with earlier surveys.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of female voters say teachers are paid too little, compared to 49% of male voters. Seventy-one percent (71%) of Democrats agree versus 41% of Republicans and 49% of unaffiliated voters.

Interestingly, unmarried voters by 10 points over married voters believe teachers are underpaid. Fifty-eight percent (58%) of voters with children in the home share that view, along with 53% of those without children in the house.

With Obama’s nominee for Education secretary stil unannounced, the New York Times noted on Saturday, “There is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation’s schools that his selection will reflect. … Will he side with those who want to abolish teacher tenure and otherwise curb the power of teachers’ unions? Or with those who want to rewrite the main federal law on elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act, and who say the best strategy is to help teachers become more qualified?”

The president-elect continues to hover in record positive territory in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Approval Index.

In a survey in May, 64% of adults said being a teacher is one of the most important jobs in our country today, and 80% said their teachers were at least somewhat important in shaping the direction of their lives.

Just 20% of voters, however, think teachers are more important to a student’s success in school than parents. Seventy-two percent (72%) say parents are more important, with eight percent (8%) not sure.

Seventy-eight percent (78%) of conservatives and 76% of moderates put the emphasis on parents, but liberals are more closely divided. Among liberal voters, 58% say parents are more important, but 29% say teachers are.

Eighty percent (80%) of evangelical Christians, 72% of other Protestants and 74% of Catholics also emphasize the importance of parents. Support for parents is highest among those who attend church on a regular basis.

Sixty-two percent (62%) of voters also agree that social factors outside the school are very important in determining a student’s educational performance. Another 29% say these outside factors are somewhat important. Only one percent (1%) say they are not at all important.

African-Americans and Democratic voters are more likely than whites and Republicans to rate social factors outside the school as very important to a student’s performance.

In September, 81% of adults rated the performance of their children’s schools as good or excellent.

To read more education focused polls from Rasmussen Reports, click here.


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