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Attitudes

  • Investing In Children = Supporting Their Families

    Written on August 2, 2012

    Although some parents are better positioned than others to meet their families’ child care needs, very few parents are immune to the challenges of balancing work and family. Adding further stress to families is the fact that single-parent households are at a record high in the U.S., with more than 40 percent of births happening outside of marriage. Paid parental leave and quality early childhood education (ECE) are two important policies that can assist parents in this regard. In the United States, however, both are less comprehensive and less equally distributed than in most other developed nations.

    As a recent (and excellent) Forbes piece points out, we have two alternatives: hope that difficult family circumstances reverse themselves, or support policies such as paid parental leave and universal early childhood education and care — policies which would make it much easier for all parents to raise children, be it as a couple or on their own. So, what’s it going to be?

    In 2010, a global survey on paid leave and other workplace benefits directed by Dr. Jody Heymann (McGill University) and Dr. Alison Earle (Northeastern University) found that the U.S. is one of four* countries in the world without a national law guaranteeing paid leave for parents.** The other three nations are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland. Some might see this as evidence of American “exceptionalism," but what a 2011 Human Rights Watch report finds exceptional is the degree to which the nation is "Failing Its Families." In fact, according to a survey of registered voters cited in the report, 76 percent of Americans said they would endorse laws that provide paid leave for family care and childbirth. Yet, it is still the case in the U.S. that parental leave, when available at all, is usually brief and unpaid.

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  • Teachers And Their Unions: A Conceptual Border Dispute

    Written on May 2, 2012

    One of the segments from “Waiting for Superman” that stuck in my head is the following statement by Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter:

    It’s very, very important to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time. Teachers are great, a national treasure. Teachers’ unions are, generally speaking, a menace and an impediment to reform.
    The distinction between teachers and their unions (as well as those of other workers) has been a matter of political and conceptual contention for long time. On one “side," the common viewpoint, as characterized by Alter's slightly hyperbolic line, is “love teachers, don’t like their unions." On the other “side," criticism of teachers’ unions is often called “teacher bashing."

    So, is there any distinction between teachers and teachers’ unions? Of course there is.

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  • Are Americans Exceptional In Their Attitudes Toward Government's Role In Reducing Inequality?

    Written on January 10, 2012

    As discussed in a previous post, roughly half of Americans believe that government should take some active role in reducing income differences between rich and poor, though, as one would expect, this view is less prevalent among Republicans, more educated and higher earning survey respondents.

    These data, however, lack a frame of reference. That is, they don’t tell us whether American support for government redistribution is “high” or “low” compared with that in other nations. The conventional wisdom in this area is that Americans generally prefer a more limited government, especially when it comes to things like income redistribution.

    It might therefore be interesting to take a quick look at how the U.S. stacks up against other nations in terms of these redistributive preferences.

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  • Why Do Most Americans Support "Assistance To The Poor" But Oppose "Welfare"?

    Written on November 17, 2011

    Politicians and other public figures spend a great deal of resources – time and money – on crafting their messages so as to elicit a desired response. A famous example is the effort to relabel the estate tax as the death tax – the former conjures images of very wealthy people paying their fair share, whereas the latter obscures this limited applicability, and invokes outrage at being “taxed just for dying."

    As everyone knows, words matter, and these efforts pay off. You don’t need to look at the results of too many surveys or polls to realize that people respond very differently depending on what you call something or how you describe it (e.g., see this post on attitudes toward teacher tenure).

    One other particularly interesting – and important – example of this description-based divergence of attitudes toward social programs for the poor.

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  • Americans Do NOT Want To Cut Government Programs

    Written on November 9, 2011

    Conservatives sometimes assert and often imply that Americans want to cut government spending on social assistance and other programs. This is a myth.

    In fact, when it comes to the types of programs that get most of the attention in our national debate, almost nobody supports spending reductions and, in many cases, there is strong support for increases.

    Take a look at the figure below, which presents General Social Survey data for 2010. Each bar presents the distribution of responses to questions of whether the U.S. spends too much (red), about the right amount (yellow) or too little (green) on several different types of programs and public resources.

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  • Do Americans Think Government Should Reduce Income Inequality?

    Written on October 24, 2011

    With all the recent coverage of Occupy Wall Street and President Obama’s jobs bill, we’ve heard a lot of polling results showing that a large plurality of Americans supports raising taxes on high earners, and that this support is strong among both Democrats and Republicans.

    The campaign to raise taxes on high-income households is part of a larger ideological notion that reducing inequality by such means as taxation and welfare programs is a proper function of government. Supporters (e.g., Democrats) argue that progressive taxation helps to ensure that high earners pay their “fair share” in supporting the public resources, such as schools, roads and law enforcement, that are necessary (but not sufficient) for their success. Republicans, on the other hand, tend frame the issue directly in terms of government intrusion – the government is unfairly “picking winners and losers," and stifling innovation and risk-taking. The assumption seems to be that many Americans don't care for the generic idea of government taking an active role in reducing the gap between rich and poor, even though they tend to support many of the specific means by which this occurs, including not only raising taxes on high earners, but also public education and programs like Medicaid.

    So, it might be interesting to see what Americans think of the broader idea that government has a legitimate role in reducing income inequality. Let’s take a quick look.

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  • Be Careful What You Think The Public Thinks About Tenure

    Written on September 19, 2011

    Monmouth University polling director Patrick Murray offered this response to my criticism of how he described tenure in a recent poll of New Jersey public opinion (see my brief reply and Bruce Baker's as well).

    I’m not particularly keen on arguing about the wording of poll questions. As I stated in my original post, wordings are never perfect, and one must always take this into account when trying to interpret polling results. I took issue with Monmouth’s phrasing because it is demonstrably inaccurate, nothing more.

    But I do want to quickly add that, as is often the case, responses to poll questions about tenure are very sensitive to the nature of the description offered. A 2009 PDK/Gallup poll provides an illustration.

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  • Teachers' Preparation Routes And Policy Views

    Written on August 22, 2011

    In a previous post, I lamented the scarcity of survey data measuring what teachers think of different education policy reforms. A couple of weeks ago, the National Center for Education Information (NCEI) released the results of their teacher survey (conducted every five years), which provides a useful snapshot of teachers’ opinions toward different policies (albeit not at the level of detail that one might wish).

    There are too many interesting results to review in one post, and I encourage you to take a look at the full set yourself. There was, however, one thing about the survey tabulations that I found particularly striking, and that was the high degree to which policy opinions differed between traditionally-certified teachers and those who entered teaching through alternative certification (alt-cert).

    In the figure below, I reproduce data from the NCEI report’s battery of questions about whether teachers think different policies would “improve education." Respondents are divided by preparation route – traditional and alternative.

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  • Matt Damon, Jon Stewart And The "Teacher In The Family Effect"

    Written on August 1, 2011

    Over the past year or so, two high-profile celebrities – Jon Stewart and Matt Damon – have expressed skepticism about the market-based education reform policies currently spreading throughout the U.S. One cannot help but notice that they share one characteristic that they both acknowledge has helped to guide their opinions: Their mothers were both PK-12 educators. I’m also the son of a teacher and I know that this has had a substantial effect on my opinions about public education. No doubt the same is true of people who are married to teachers.

    It’s hardly surprising that your occupation can help to influence the views of your family members, especially those pertaining directly to that career (i.e., education policy and teachers’ families). But I found myself wondering if there was some way to get a sense of just how strong this “effect” might be. In other words, how much more likely are non-teachers from “teacher families” – those with a mother, father, or spouse who is a K-12 teacher – to hold different views toward education policy, compared with non-teachers who don’t have any teachers in their immediate families.

    Let’s take a very quick look.

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  • Who Doesn't Trust Unions?

    Written on June 16, 2011

    In a previous post, I noted that confidence in organized labor really hasn’t changed that much over the past 30 years, even though union membership has been declining steadily.

    This got me thinking about what kinds of factors (such as individual characteristics) are associated with being anti-union, and I decided to run a couple of simple, rough models to get an idea (keep in mind that this is a very quick treatment). As you might recall from the previous post, respondents in my dataset (the General Social Survey) were asked whether they had “hardly any," “only some," or “a great deal” of confidence in organized labor. In 2010, 60 percent said that they had only some confidence, 30 percent hardly any, and a mere 10 percent asserted a great deal of faith in unions. For the purpose of simplicity, I will refer to those with "hardly any" confidence as “anti-union."

    I have to start with a few quick, optional-reading details about my data and analysis (read the notes in the graphs below if you want more information). Because so few people expressed “a great deal” of confidence, I collapse this category into the “only some” response, creating a two-category outcome variable measuring whether or not the respondent had “hardly any” confidence. The models I use (binary logit models) control for a variety of factors that might influence union attitudes, including marital status, party identification, income, race, parenthood, education, gender, age, year, labor force status, and whether or not one (or one’s spouse) is a union member. I limit the sample to respondents 21 or older, and to increase sample size, I pool data from the 2006, 2008 and 2010 surveys, for a total sample of 3,849.

    The results were a bit interesting.

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