Fewer Californians than residents nationwide favor raising teacher pay

August 20, 2018

Chansophea Ing teaches students at Lafayette Elementary School in Long Beach.

The plight of teachers in the half-dozen states who went out on strike over wages last spring resonated across the nation. A near-majority of people now favor raising teachers’ pay — a significant increase over a year ago — according to a poll by the education journal Education Next. An exception, though, is California — at least when those surveyed were told how much teachers in the state currently earn.

Education Next’s 12th annual survey of 4,601 adults, released Tuesday, also showed an uptick in support for charter schools, after a large drop a year ago, and for increased school spending — both nationwide and in California.

The surge in support for raising teacher pay marked the biggest change from a year ago and the biggest surprise in the survey, said two of the co-authors of the survey, Harvard University Education Professor Martin West and Harvard University Government Professor Paul Peterson, in a press briefing. Both are editors of Education Next. The survey was conducted in May, following a series of teacher walkouts that West said “did more to increase support than to lower it” in those states and beyond. Support for higher pay also may reflect a strong national economy, with the public more open to an appeal for raises; the question about increasing teacher pay drew the most support since 2008, the year before the Great Recession, he said.

Half of respondents were first informed of the average salary of teachers in their states. Among those respondents, 50 percent said the pay should be raised — a 13-percentage-point increase over last year. Among the six states where teachers struck, 63 percent said they favor higher pay. However, the average pay in those states, which included West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, rank among the bottom 10 states in teacher income, according to Education Next.

Teachers in California earn, on average, the third-highest salaries in the nation, behind only Massachusetts and New York. Told that the average pay in their state was $72,842, only 41 percent of California respondents would raise teacher salaries — 9 percentage points below the national average. An additional 47 percent would leave salaries where they are and 12 percent would lower them. That’s still a sizable increase from 2017, when only 27 percent of Californians polled said pay should be higher.

The results were vastly different for the random half of respondents who were asked whether they favored raising teacher pay but weren’t told how much teachers earn in their states. For the California respondents, 70 percent said pay should be higher, compared with 67 percent among adults throughout the country. Most Americans believe that teachers earn far less than they do, the study said. Asked to estimate average teacher salaries in their state, the average guess of respondents nationwide was $40,181 — 31 percent less than the actual national figure of $58,297.

More school funding

The message is mixed on raising teacher pay, but not so on increasing funding. When told the current spending level in their school district, 54 percent of California respondents said it should be increased and 46 percent said it shouldn’t. That’s an increase of 15 percentage points in favor of more funding compared to a year ago.

Nationwide, only 47 percent said spending should be higher. California ranks near the bottom among states in per-capita spending when the state’s cost of living is factored in and closer to the middle when it isn’t.

Charter schools

The big news in last year’s poll, covering President Donald Trump’s first half-year in office, was the big drop in support of charter schools nationwide, from 51 percent to 39 percent. That was still a plurality, with 36 percent opposed to charter schools and 25 percent expressing no position. Both Democrats’ and Republicans’ support for charter schools fell.

In this year’s poll, charter school support rebounded nationwide, with 44 percent support, up 5 percentage points. But the increase was almost entirely among Republicans, “widening the divide between Republicans and Democrats on this issue,” the summary said.

Californians are more favorable to charter schools than residents nationwide, with 55 percent in favor, 34 percent opposed and 11 percent neutral. Support grew 12 percentage points in one year, while opposition to charters also grew, by 5 percentage points — indicating there are fewer people on the fence. Last year, 28 percent expressed no opinion; this year, only 11 percent were neutral.

Last year, EdNext did not break out the results for California or other states.

Common Core

Support for the Common Core standards remains stronger in California than the nation, with not much change over the past year — a reflection that it’s no longer a hot-button federal issue. Many states have modified or renamed the Common Core, enough to quiet Republican opposition to “federally mandated” standards. Of the California respondents, 51 percent back the standards, the same as last year. Opposition grew from 27 to 33 percent, as some of those who were noncommittal made up their minds. Nationwide, 44 percent back the standards, up 4 percentage points from 2017. Opposition dropped from 40 to 38 percent.

The survey also asked respondents their views on taxpayer-subsidized vouchers to pay for private schools, merit pay for teachers, affirmative action and immigration. EdNext did not provide the California breakdown on these issues.

The polling firm Knowledge Networks did the survey, using a representative panel of adults who agree to participate in a limited number of online surveys, according to EdNext. The margin of error for questions asked to all 4,601 respondents was 1.4 percentage points and 5 to 6 percentage points for responses by Californians.

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