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Americans Give Teachers High Marks, But Half Say Unions ‘Fail’

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Teachers in the U.S. still enjoy widespread confidence in their abilities and profession, but teacher unions may be hurting their image, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The joint Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) and Gallup poll shows 70 percent of Americans support their local school teachers, while nearly half of respondents believe unions could be hindering advancements in public education.

Bill Bushaw, executive director of PDK and the survey’s co-director, told KNX 1070 the results aren’t necessarily influenced by the group’s pro-teacher stance.

“It’s not an advocacy poll,” Bushaw said. “In fact, when we put together the poll questions each year, we rely upon a bipartisan group, an advisory group that offers suggestions on the question.

Opposition to teachers unions has grown since the question was first posed in 1976, when 38 percent of respondents saw unionization as a negative development, compared with 47 percent in 2011.

However, support for unions has also inched up from 22 percent to 26 percent, with Americans largely split along partisan lines.

“This year, the parents gave the schools that their oldest child attends the highest grade they’ve ever given, but at the same time, Americans give the nation’s schools the lowest grades that they’ve ever given,” said Bushaw.

Parents have recently been spotted joining local teachers on the picket line as schools across the Southland grapple with how to balance budget cuts with their educational goals.

Bushaw adds that perception often trumps reality in the results of these kinds of surveys, pointing to the fact that respondents were far more likely to endorse the schools — and the teachers — that they know personally.

“They certainly have very different and much lower opinions of the nation’s schools based upon probably what they pick up in the general media”, said Bushaw.

Forty-seven percent of respondents say unionization has hurt the quality of public education in America, compared with 38 percent in 1976, the last time the question was asked. The number of Americans who say unionization has helped has jumped slightly, too – from 22 percent to 26 percent – and far fewer Americans (just 2 percent, compared with 13 percent in 1976) have no opinion on the subject.

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