What Americans Think About Teachers Versus What They're Hearing

The results from the recent Gallup/PDK education survey found that 71 percent of surveyed Americans “have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in public schools." Although this finding received a fair amount of media attention, it is not at all surprising. Polls have long indicated that teachers are among the most trusted professions in the U.S., up there with doctors, nurses and firefighters.

(Side note: The teaching profession also ranks among the most prestigious U.S. occupations – in both analyses of survey data as well as in polls [though see here for an argument that occupational prestige scores are obsolete].)

What was rather surprising, on the other hand, was the Gallup/PDK results for the question about what people are hearing about teachers in the news media. Respondents were asked, “Generally speaking, do you hear more good stories or bad stories about teachers in the news media?"

Over two-thirds (68 percent) said they heard more bad stories than good ones. A little over a quarter (28 percent) said the opposite.

Just to be clear, this does not, in my view, represent evidence that there is some “war on teachers” being waged in our public discourse. In general, most people, both inside and outside of education policy circles, trust and respect teachers, even if we disagree as to how to structure their pay and working conditions.

Moreover, there are a few ways to interpret this finding. For example, it may be the case that the “bad stories” people are hearing pertain to teacher policy, such as tenure, rather than teachers themselves.

But it’s certainly worth noting that the average person in this country feels like they’re hearing more bad than good things about public school teachers in the U.S., despite the fact that the majority of people holds teachers in high regard.

So, when you hear teachers say they are being portrayed negatively in our public discourse, remember that they may not be the only ones saying that.

- Matt Di Carlo