Harvard Prof: Wide Gulf Between Opinions of Teachers, Public

Monday, 05 May 2014 06:12 PM

By Courtney Coren

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When comparing groups, there is no greater divide in opinions than that between schoolteachers and the public, says Harvard University professor Paul Peterson.

"Old versus younger, the homeowners versus non-homeowners, parents versus others, minority groups versus whites, Democrats versus Republicans, and we never find that big of a difference on lots of issues," Peterson told Francesca Paige and J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV.

"Nothing quite as big as the difference between what teachers think and what the rest of the public thinks," he said Monday.

Peterson addresses these issues in his latest book, "Teachers Versus the Public: What Americans Think About Schools and How to Fix Them," which he co-wrote with Michael Henderson and Martin West.

He said the biggest divide is on the issue of teacher tenure.

"The public thinks that teacher tenure is not where we need to go in the future," Peterson explains. "They think that if we're going to have tenure, we should evaluate teachers on the basis of student performance and their classrooms, and we should probably get rid of it altogether. The teachers disagree."

"Sixty-seven percent of Americans favor this reform; only 16 to 20 percent of the teachers like the idea," he added.

According to Peterson, teachers "don't want to be held accountable for their performance in the classroom. They don't want to be paid according to how effective a teacher they are."

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Another polarizing issue between teachers and the public is the issue of trade unions in education.

"The American public thinks that unions do more harm than good in their local schools, whereas teachers think the opposite," Peterson said.

Other polarizing issues are vouchers and charter schools, which the public strongly supports and teachers oppose.

Peterson says the public also doesn't think teachers should be required to be certified to teach, but that principals "should be able to hire the best college graduate out there."

He said that according to his research, "certifying a teacher doesn't make that teacher any better, if you compare the ones that are certified with the others that are hired as an emergency teacher or in some other way."

One issue where the public and teachers are more closely aligned is on the issue of Common Core standards.

"[The American public] believe[s] in national standards, they believe that students should be held to those standards and should be forced to perform at the high level in order to graduate from high school," Peterson said.

"The teachers don't particularly disagree with that issue," he said. "They don't support it as much as the parents do, but it's not as deep of a divide as on some of the other issues."

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