The Teacher in the Next Room: A Study of Teachers and their Political Attitudes and Actions
By Peter Greene
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.
Related: Garn Press Education Books
- Playhouse: Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families with Little Children
- Teaching without Testing: Assessing the Complexity of Children’s Literacy Learning
- Preparing the Nation’s Teachers to Teach Reading: A Manifesto in Defense of “Teacher Educators Like Me”
- First Do No Harm: Progressive Education In A Time Of Existential Risk
- Raising Peacemakers
- Negotiating a Permeable Curriculum
- A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century
- The Educator And The Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges The Gates Foundation
- Beware the Roadbuilders: Literature as Resistance
- Ken Goodman – The 1992-1993 Interviews of Renowned Reading Scholars
- What’s Whole In Whole Language In The 21st Century?
- Save Our Children, Save Our School, Pearson Broke The Golden Rule: A Satire
- Great Women Scholars: Yetta Goodman, Maxine Greene, Louise Rosenblatt, Margaret Meek Spencer
- Nineteen Clues: Great Transformations Can Be Achieved Through Collective Action