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Americans love teachers but split over teachers’ unions, poll shows

Americans show strong support for public-school teachers, according to a new poll. But a partisan divide exists over the role of teachers' unions.

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“In an environment where a lot of my members feel under attack, I think they will take great heart that the public really does believe they know what they’re doing and care about kids,” says Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association.

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When asked to grade the teachers in their community, 69 percent of those polled gave them an A or a B, compared with 50 percent in 1984.

In a statement, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten also lauded the strong support for teachers that the poll found, saying it “is all the more heartening given that more than two-thirds of respondents say they hear more bad news about education than good news.” As for the poll’s findings on opinion of unions, she criticized the question, noting that it is “framed in a way that implies union work is limited to narrow issues of compensation and working conditions.”

Just over 70 percent of poll respondents say they have trust and confidence in public-school teachers, and about three quarters also say that they would encourage the brightest person they know to become a teacher and that they believe teachers should be given flexibility, rather than be required to follow a prescribed curriculum.

“It’s really encouraging to see that there are some things that are really important about education that three-fourths of the people in the country agree on,” says Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

Mr. Nathan also cited the poll’s findings on school choice. The poll has asked questions about charter schools, public-school choice, and vouchers for several years, and public opinion seem to be solidifying.

Both charter schools and public-schools received the highest approval ratings yet (70 percent and 74 percent, respectively), while the idea of vouchers that could be used at private schools got the lowest approval rating, with just 34 percent agreeing with the idea.

“The public is embracing school choice to a greater extent than ever before, but makes an important distinction between public-school choice and giving people money to go to private schools,” says Mr. Toch.

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