Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Teacher in the Next Room

The Education Week Research Center has released a study of teachers and their political attitudes and actions. If it is even remotely accurate, it has one huge implication for teachers who are advocates for public education-- never mind trying to influence the public but instead, see if you can influence the teacher in the room next to yours.

The sample size was made up of 555 teachers, 266 school leaders, 202 district leaders, and 99
other school or district employees, so that's a little disproportionate. So is the sampling of two-thirds female and one-third male, which doesn't quite match the lopsidedly female makeup of the nation's teaching staff. They did get the 81% white part right. And the sample skewed "experienced, with 51% having over twenty years on the job. They were spread across the country among schools of varying size and poverty level.

The report is easy to page through, with each question given its own page and an easy-to-read graphic to go with it. You should give it a look. But for the moment, let me just walk you through some of the highlights.

In terms of self-assessing location on the political spectrum, teachers are evenly distributed. 43% in the middle, about 23% to either side and about 4% on each extreme. Yet that translates into 41% Dems, 27% GOP, and 30% independent (with 1% left over for a third party). And it translated into 50% of teachers voting for Clinton, 29% going Trump, 13% going third party, and 8% sitting the election out. That puts teacher participation far ahead of the general public (about 45% stayed away from the Clinton-Trump contest).

None of that was news to me-- I knew about a third of teachers voted for Trump. Nor is it surprising to read that education was the number one "very important" issue to teachers in the election (followed by heath care and the economy).

Now we get to the stuff that tells us just how much work public education advocates have left to do.

Of those Trump voters, 30% have a favorable opinion of Betsy DeVos-- and 10% of Clinton voters do, too. Lord only knows what that favorable opinion is based on. Anti-Common Core? General disdain for public education, and some of us are just stuck in a state of self-loathing that responds to her?

When Clinton voters were asked to grade the Democratic Party on education issues, 2% gave it an A, but 29% gave it a B and 42% gave it a C, which I would call generous. Is this why the Democratic party has generally abandoned teachers and public education-- because most teachers haven't noticed them doing it?

Trump voters were less generous with their own party-- 3% gave the GOP an A, 19% gave it a B, and 35% gave it a C. 56% of Clinton voters gave the GOP an F, which tells me that a whole bunch of Democratic teachers have not yet noticed that there is little difference between Democratic and GOP education policies.

48% of teachers have avoided political activities a little or a lot because of a "concern" that such activities might create problems in their job. Boy, I'd love to see how that shakes out depending on whether they live in a right-to-work untenured state or not.  The report also indicates some mixed feelings about unions-- no shock there.

But then we look at how teachers come down on some current issues.

When it comes to forming charter schools, 74% of all teachers oppose them-- that includes a full 64% of Trump voters. Yet 16% think charters are swell. The numbers are similar for "the use of government funding to help pay students' tuition at private schools," which voucher fans will call an unfair framing of the voucher issue. Still, 25% of Trump voters support the idea along with 11% of Clinton voters. Yet when asked about tuition tax credits (another version of vouchers, only half the teachers oppose them, and a third support.

In what I'd call one of the most shocking returns, only 14% of Trump voters think immigration is a good thing in this country. Granted, that's in keeping with Trump voters in general-- but these are teachers. 66% of Trump voters called immigration "mixed." I am concerned for the children of immigrants who are sitting in the classrooms of those teachers. Oh, and 44% of Trump voters-- and a whopping 17% of Clinton voters-- oppose DACA.

Most depressing result? The respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed that students of color have the same educational opportunities as whites in this country. 76% of Trump voters agreed. 37% of Clinton voters agreed. I don't even know where to begin. In total, a full half of teachers do not see any inequity of opportunity by race in this country. Where are they working? What are they reading? What do they see? And what are they doing with the students of color in their own classrooms?

In happy news for reformsters that we are likely to hear repeated, 72% of all teachers support the idea "that different states should use the same standards to hold public schools accountable in reading and math." Note that they didn't use the words "Common Core," so this is in keeping with some previous surveys. But I'm going to go ahead and find it depressing.

Teachers mirror the general population in that they mostly give their local school district A-B grades and the national school system a C. And almost nobody thinks their school system is well funded.

53% of all teachers want less federal involvement, with a whopping 18% want to see more fed meddling (including a full 10% of Trumpists).

Some of these percentages are admittedly small. But they are teachers. Teachers who believe, apparently, that the drive for equity is pointless because students of color have it just as easy as the white kids. Teachers who think that immigrants may just make America worse. Teachers who think the Democratic Party has their back. Teachers who think Betsy DeVos is a fine choice for Secretary of Education, and Donald Trump is a great President.

People outside the education biz sometimes see us as a monolithic group. This survey is a reminder that we aren't. But it's also a reminder to those of us who feel passionately about public education that it's not only outside our walls that we find people who see things differently. It's a reminder that teachers are not immune to the problem of voters voting against their own interests. And it's a reminder that if we're looking for someone to try to convince and convert, we may not have to look any further than the teacher next door.


  1. "a full half of teachers do not see any inequity of opportunity by race in this country"

    Maybe they think that the inequity is based on income, not race? (And particularly the crazy system in the US where funding is by district, so poor areas get the worst funded schools. So it's not if you are poor, it's if you live in an overall poor area, which makes it harder to escape.)

    And people read "inequity of opportunity" very differently. Some say that disadvantaged groups need extra attention, to level the playing field. Others say, with some reason, that to do so is inequity of opportunity, in advancement of equity of outcome.

    It's unfair to leap to "Teachers who believe, apparently, that the drive for equity is pointless" because the question didn't ask what they think of "equity" -- only a more closed question about equity of opportunity.

    I am concerned about equity of opportunity and equity of outcomes, but they are not the same thing at all. Nor do I think that the main problem lies with schools. Nor that it can be solved largely by schools.

    So while I don't think US schools have equity of opportunity, I am cautious about assuming that means everyone who disagrees with me is just plain wrong, particularly with a question that can be read in different ways.

    1. You might want to do some reading on generational racial inequity, perhaps starting with historic redlining in real estate.

    2. First up, it's not my belief. I'm merely suggesting the way other people think.

      But reading on historic redlining doesn't change that point of view -- indeed reinforces it. Teachers are seeing the effects of discrimination that is outside the school system and declining to be held accountable for that.

      I'd prefer that you advanced some active evidence, that shows that the difference is actively due to race, and not due to poverty. Do poor White areas do as badly as poor Black ones? How much of the effect is social, since broken families and absent parents are known to reduce academic success?

    3. Apologies for the drive-by nature of this reply, but I'm reading while supper cooks and I'll need to get back to fry up the peirogies in a couple minutes, soo...

      I would wager, based on my reading and experiences in a variety of different settings from dirt-poor thru fabulously wealthy children of politicians, that poor Black and White kids come into schools with much the same deficiencies, pardon the term, in terms of things like the Word Gap and a dearth of early childhood enrichment experiences (I teach early childhood music classes, so I have things like that in mind) that are more widely available to those who can afford them, and also in terms of things like prenatal and 0-5 home lives, nutrition, environmental toxins, and so on. That said, Black families have the additional burden of racist policies, overt and subtle, that have existed for generations and the effects of which affect even children of color born today in a variety of ways, from where their families live to whether they have incarcerated family members (far more likely in Black families than White, even for the same crimes), and in differences in opportunity in things like jobs (look to outcomes for identical resumes, one with "Black-sounding" name) that exacerbate Black poverty.

      But otherwise, there's also a pretty strong correlation, especially in urban areas, between poverty and race, with more people living in cities than in small Appalachian/rural towns/villages, so there's that.

  2. Nicely done--and I agree, including your take on inequity of opportunity by race.

    I taught a graduate-level course on teacher leadership last year in a (unnamed--because I recommended your blog to my students) southern state. I am going to suggest that a lot of the more shocking data revealed in this survey is the result of teacher's lack of knowledge about the political underpinnings of their own profession. (Or, more accurately, truncated profession.)

    The teachers in my course were mostly quite experienced (7-20 years), so these were not newbies having their eyes opened. They were also in a state with only a handful of charters (which they thought were an interesting, non-malignant addition to the ed-mix, another flavor of "public") and one that had not adopted the Common Core, which they thought was a great idea.

    The most interesting thing I saw was their general belief that Teach for America was a high-level recruitment program that would pump "quality" teachers into their systems, replacing the "not very smart" licensed and certified teachers already there. TFA had not made inroads into urban systems in this state until very recently, and the teachers I worked with saw the TFAs as a kind of Marine Corps of teaching, with their out-of-state prestigious degrees. Several of them chose TFA as a policy issue to study, and despite reading widely on the pros and cons and history of TFA, genuinely admired TFA "corps members" for "giving back."

    I don't even want to tell you what I heard about unions. It was a bizarre experience for a 30-yr unionized teacher. There were some wonderful folks in the course, naturally--anyone who wants to study policy in education is promising--but I think the survey results are spot-on, and a useful tool for right-wing commentary about liberal educators.

  3. From a comment on D. Ravitch's blog and my response:

    “Their support for Trump parallels their belief in life at conception and the corresponding important place that has in making their decision at the ballot box.”

    And that Roy is the basis of much of the ignorance of supposedly modern Americans-their firm belief in an unverifiable/metaphysical realm of, usually, xtian origin. “Faith” beliefs serve to soften up the human psyche for all kinds of other “beliefs” that belie rationo-logical thought, that presume primacy of those “faith” beliefs over all other thought–“Well GOD told us this is the way it should be”. Simplistic non-questioning thinking leads to simplistic non-well thought out solutions that are easily digestible to simple minds. Pretty simple, eh!

    Until this country breaks out from under the dominance of “faith beliefs” we will continue to have simple political talk and supposed answers that only serve those in power.

    Let me put in far more polemical terms: In the realm of the political, religious thought is ignorant thought.