WASHINGTON Most Americans think teachers aren't paid enough, and support for school voucher programs is in decline, said a survey released last week.
Nearly 60 percent of respondents said salaries were too low for teachers in their communities, according to the 35th annual poll conducted by the Gallup Organization and Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional group that advocates for public education. Thirty-three percent of those polled thought teacher salaries were ''just about right.''
Meanwhile, support for programs that allow students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense dropped to 38 percent from 46 percent last year, the survey found.
Public support for higher teacher pay has risen in the last decade.
From 1969 through the mid-1980s, about a third of Americans thought teachers were paid too little. By 1990 the last time this poll asked the question the number had reached 50 percent. Now, 59 percent say teacher salaries are too low.
Sixty-one percent of those polled thought their school system had a hard time getting good teachers, and two-thirds said it was difficult to retain such teachers.
Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, a union representing 2.7 million teachers, administrators and others, said the poll findings supported the opinion held for years by his group.
''Teacher compensation is not what we would like for it to be,'' he said. ''As a result, you have a number of people who are not coming into the profession and a number of people who are leaving the profession.''
The No Child Left Behind Act, approved by Congress and signed by President Bush more than a year and half ago, requires that every public school classroom be staffed by a fully certified teacher by the beginning of the 2005-06 school year.
Even though a majority opposed school vouchers, poll respondents divided equally on whether a voucher program would improve student achievement in their community, with 48 percent saying it would and 48 percent saying it wouldn't.
But those results differed sharply by political party. Most Republicans 55 percent said a voucher program would boost student achievement, while just 41 percent of Democrats said it would.
A majority, 59 percent, thought a voucher program would not affect the achievement of students who remain in public schools, the poll found. Just 26 percent thought public school students' achievement would improve, but that's up from 17 percent in 1997.
''The public doesn't seem to buy the argument ... that (vouchers) will create a competitive environment and that public schools will strive harder and raise student achievement because of vouchers,'' said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington.
Some 62 percent of respondents said that if they were given a full-tuition voucher they would send their child to a private or religious school. With a half-tuition voucher, that number dropped to 51 percent.
Jennings said poll responses to voucher questions can fluctuate significantly, possibly because the public is unclear about how such a system would work.
At the same time, 73 percent of poll respondents believed the existing school system should be reformed not replaced by an alternative system. The word ''voucher'' was not mentioned in this question.
Ninety percent of respondents thought it was important to close the achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students. Eighty percent blamed the gap on factors outside the school system, like parent and community involvement in students' lives.
The margin of error for most of the poll's findings is plus or minus 4 percentage points, higher for responses involving subgroups of the 1,011 people who were polled.
The poll results will be published in the September issue of the Phi Delta Kappan.
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