Public, teachers divided in support for merit pay, teacher tenure, race to the top

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The fourth annual survey conducted by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) and Education Next on a wide range of education issues released today reveals that the broader public and teachers are markedly divided in their support for merit pay, teacher tenure and Race to the Top (RttT). The poll provides strong evidence from a nationally representative sample that most Americans support merit pay for teachers, while teachers oppose the policy by a large margin; there is strong opposition among the public to teacher tenure, while teachers favor it; and teachers are significantly more opposed to the federal RttT program than the broader public.

Survey questions and responses, along with an essay by survey authors William G. Howell, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West interpreting the results, are available online at the Education Next website:

Support for “basing a teacher’s salary, in part, on his or her students’ academic progress on state tests” jumped five percentage points in one year, increasing from 44 percent in 2007 to 49 percent in 2010, while opposition declined from 32 to 25 percent.  However, only 24 percent of teachers supported the idea, while 63 percent expressed opposition.

The poll revealed that those who oppose teacher tenure outnumber those who support it by a margin of almost 2:1.  Forty-seven percent oppose the idea, while 25 percent favor it. Among teachers, 48 percent favored tenure.

Thirty-two percent of Americans think RttT is necessary to improve education, but 22 percent believe it is an unwarranted intrusion into state and local government.  However, 46 percent of those polled expressed no opinion. Support is greater among African Americans and Hispanics who back the program by a margin of 48 percent to 12 percent. Meanwhile, teachers oppose RttT by a 2:1 margin, with only 22 percent saying they like the program, and 46 percent against it.

The PEPG-EdNext poll also revealed a surge in support for virtual schooling. Between 2009 and 2010, the percentage in favor of allowing high school students to take a course on the Internet increased from 42 percent to 52 percent, while opposition fell from 29 percent to 23 percent.

Support for charter schools remained essentially unchanged between 2008 and 2010—rising from 42 percent to 44 percent, while opposition increased from just 16 to 19 percent. The remaining group—36 percent—remained neutral. However, support for charter schools in minority communities rose steeply—from 42 percent to 64 percent among African Americans and from 37 percent to 47 percent among Hispanics.  Among teachers, charter support fell from 47 percent to 39 percent.

“When it comes to school choice, charters and learning on the Internet are ‘in,’ while vouchers are ‘out,’” Peterson commented.