Americans gave their local public schools the highest ratings in nearly 50 years and expressed widespread trust in their teachers in PDK International’s 2022 Public Attitudes Toward Public Schools poll.
But when asked if they would want their child to be a teacher, 62 percent of survey respondents said “no,” representing the highest number of people to say teaching isn’t a good profession for young people in the poll’s history. (Among only public school parents surveyed, 59 percent said “no.”)
“There’s a big concern in these numbers about the future of the teaching profession,” said Teresa Preston, director of publications at PDK International, the professional education association that conducts the poll. “We see these narratives of people who support their schools, trust their teachers, but don’t want their children to become teachers.”
PDK surveyed 1,008 American adults online from June 17-25 for the annual poll, which asks respondents to rate the schools in their own communities and the national education system on a typical A-F grading scale. This year is the first time the association has done the poll since 2019 after taking a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s results showed strong faith in local public schools with 54 percent of respondents grading their community’s schools “A” or “B” and 45 percent rating their schools “C,” “D,” or “fail.” That is the highest percentage of “A” or “B” ratings in the 48-year history of the poll and a 10 percentage point increase from 2019.
The poll also showed widespread trust in local teachers, with 63 percent of respondents saying they have “a great deal or good amount” of overall trust and confidence in their community’s teachers. That’s an increase over the 61 percent of respondents who said the same in the 2018 poll, the last time PDK asked that question.
But trust in teachers and high ratings for local schools doesn’t mean the public has faith in the nation’s K-12 school system. Only 23 percent of respondents said they would give an “A” or “B” grade to public schools nationally, a number that is higher than the 19 percent who said the same in 2019.
Concerns about the teaching profession
While most respondents said they have confidence in their local teachers, only 37 percent say they would want their child to become a teacher. It’s a record low for that response and a 9 percentage point drop from 2018.
The respondents had a variety of reasons for why they wouldn’t want to see their children become teachers. Nearly 30 percent cited poor pay and benefits; 26 percent said it was because of the difficulties, demands, and stress of the job; 23 percent cited a lack of respect; and 21 percent chose other reasons.
The data reflect increasing concerns about the lack of pay, respect, and support for teachers. Those concerns have only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, incidents of school violence, and public debates over discussions of race, gender, and sexuality in the classroom.
“We can see that the public may well understand how difficult teaching is,” Preston said. “They know that it is a difficult job. They believe the people doing the job are doing well at it, but they know that it is difficult. They don’t necessarily want to see their children have to put up with these same challenges in their career.”
Trust in teachers varies based on classroom subject, parental status, and race
Most people said they trust their public school teachers, but the level of trust varied depending on the topic. For example, 56 percent of respondents said they trust and have confidence in their community’s public school teachers “to appropriately handle” U.S. History, and 50 percent said the same of civics.
But only 44 percent of respondents said they trust teachers to handle “how the history of racism affects America today,” and even fewer—38 percent—said they trust teachers to handle gender and sexuality issues.
Trust in how teachers handle various subjects fell along ideological lines. Sixty-four percent of liberals said they trust teachers to teach U.S. history while 50 percent of conservatives said the same. And 52 percent of liberals said they trust teachers to handle how the history of racism affects America while only 39 percent of conservatives said the same.
The data don’t reveal why respondents don’t trust teachers to handle those topics, but media attention on efforts to limit discussions about race, gender, and sexuality in the classroom may play a role, Preston said.
“We see how politics are informing how people feel and what people think might be going on in their schools,” she said. “At the same time, we can’t really know the full story.”
More parents of public school students—72 percent—expressed trust and confidence in local teachers than the survey respondents as a whole. Parents were also more likely to trust teachers to handle discussions surrounding race, gender, and sexuality in the classroom.
Trust also varied based on race of respondents. Fewer Black people—41 percent—gave their schools an “A” or “B” grade than the 55 percent of all others who gave those grades. Only 33 percent of Black adults said they trust their public school teachers “to handle racial and ethnic diversity” in the classroom.
The survey also showed a divide based on the respondents’ type of community. Fifty-eight percent of all respondents in suburban areas gave an “A” or “B” rating to their local schools while 48 percent of respondents in urban areas and 55 percent in rural areas did the same.
Despite the varied reactions among different groups, Preston said it’s “heartening” to see public schools receive higher ratings than in the past.
“I think that’s very good news for education and for our schools,” she said.