Despite a very vocal minority, the vast majority of the U.S. believes that teachers have done a great job during the pandemic, says Justin Reich, director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab.
“There are all kinds of institutions in society that people have gotten frustrated with or lost faith with during the pandemic, but according to national polling, local schools are not one of those institutions,” Reich says.
This is seen in poll after poll measuring public satisfaction with schools regardless of who is conducting the survey. An NPR poll recently found (opens in new tab) that “by wide margins – and regardless of their political affiliation – parents express satisfaction with their children's schools and what is being taught in them.” The survey found that 88% of respondents agree “my child's teacher(s) have done the best they could, given the circumstances around the pandemic.” And 82% agree “my child's school has handled the pandemic well.”
There is even often majority agreement on topics such as required masking in schools or other COVID mitigation efforts. A National Parents Union survey (opens in new tab) conducted in January asked parents how they felt their school had handled the Omicron surge and more than 70% of respondents said they had handled it well.
“We’ve asked questions in a bunch of different ways,” Reich says. “Like how satisfied are you with your school, with particular features of instruction, with your school's approach to managing COVID. And generally speaking, no matter how we ask the question, we find that supermajorities of Americans are satisfied or very satisfied with their local public school and their teachers.”
However, surveys conducted at MIT’s Teaching Systems Lab (opens in new tab) indicate the vocal criticisms teachers experience are drowning out the larger support. “We have some reports out there that are based on interviews with 100 teachers in various places at various times, and they absolutely feel criticized and attacked,” Reich says, adding that teachers frequently don’t realize that despite this, the majority of their community is behind them. “They're only aware of these really vigorous attacks.”
Why This Message of Support for Schools Isn’t Getting Through
Despite this clear support for teachers and schools in polls, if you scroll through Twitter or consume right- or left-wing leaning media, you might come away believing that faith in schools is at an all-time low. This inaccurate impression likely arises for a couple of reasons, Reich says.
First off, there’s a disconnect between the way many people view the work their local public school is doing and education as a whole. “It has been the case for decades that Americans rate their local schools much more highly than they rate schools across the country in general,” Reich says. “The other thing I think driving this is having a Republican party that has latched on to some disaffection with school, certainly some of it legitimate and some of it total fabrication.”
This helps create an imbalance in which those critical of schools are far louder than the supporters.
“The people who are satisfied with schools, most of them aren’t passionate about it, say like a Red Sox fan or something like that,” Reich says. “They like schools in the way that they like the post office. The people who don't like schools are rabid in their frustration.”
Showing More Teacher Support
Reich believes more can be done to let teachers know that their communities are behind them. He frequently tweets (opens in new tab) about these pro-teacher polling numbers and thinks educators should be made more aware. “I think that it's worth school communities celebrating the widespread support that they have among the public,” Reich says.
He also believes the public can do more to show its support. You do not need to have a child in the district to volunteer at your school or show up at a Board of Education meeting to voice your support for what schools are doing, he says.
“I think educators have done an extraordinary job over the last couple of years, and that more of us can take more time to show our appreciation,” Reich says.