Majorities of Americans Continue to Believe Teacher Pay Too Low

ROCHESTER, N.Y.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–June 10, 2009.  As the economic recession continues one area that could be impacted is education as states and localities look to trim costs and cut budgets. Compared to last year, however, perception of the quality of education in both the country as a whole and Americans’ local areas is holding steady, but it is overall not considered excellent or very good.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,681 U.S. adults surveyed online between May 11 and 18, 2009 by Harris Interactive®.

More specifically:

  • Public schools fall to the bottom of the list when it comes to the quality of education they provide. Just over one in six U.S. adults (17%) say public schools for grades K-6 provide excellent or very good education while 15% say the same about public schools for grades 7-12. This is up slightly from last year when 15% said public schools grades K-6 provided excellent or very good education and 13% said the same about public school for grades 7-12;
  • When it comes to local public schools, those do a little better as one in five U.S. adults say both grades K-6 and 7-12 are providing an excellent or very good quality of education (21% and 20% respectively). This is almost unchanged from last year; and,
  • Private, church related schools are considered the best, whether it is in the U.S. as a whole (36% saying excellent/very good for both grades K-6 and grades 7-12) or their local schools (32% saying excellent/very good for both K-6 and 7-12).

Money and education

While majorities of Americans say teachers get paid too little and too little money is spent on public schools, these numbers have declined from last year.

  • In 2008, three in five U.S. adults (59%) believed that teachers are paid too little while one-quarter (24%) said they are paid about the right amount and 6% said teachers are paid too much. One year and an economic recession later, 53% say teachers are paid too little, three in ten (29%) say they are paid about the right amount and 8% say they are paid too much;
  • In looking at public schools in their communities, there is also a slight change. Last year almost three in five (57%) said too little money is being spent on public schools in their community while one in five (20%) said it’s about the right amount and 13 percent said too much. This year, half (51%) of Americans say there is too little money being spent in their community while one-quarter (26%) say it is the right amount and 14% say it is too much; and
  • Regionally, there are large differences in attitudes towards teachers’ pay and school funding. Those in the East are more likely to think teachers are paid too much (17%) or about the right amount (39%) and too much money is being spent on public schools in their community (22%). Those in the South, however, are more likely to think teachers are paid too little (68%) and there is too little money being spent on public schools in their community (60%).

So What?

The debate over funding for education has changed dramatically in the past four decades. In 1965 when these questions were first asked over half of Americans thought public school teachers were paid the right amount (56%) and public schools had the right amount of funding (56%). Things have changed over time and now, the consensus is that teachers are paid too little and public schools are not receiving enough money. Over the past year, there have been some changes in how people feel about this. Some of this is definitely due to the recession and people being more and more concerned about where limited resources are going. There could also be a positive light to this as more districts have also increased their spending on teachers and schools. Maybe people are actually recognizing and acknowledging this increase.

The Harris Poll® #59, June 10, 2009
By Regina A. Corso, Director, The Harris Poll, Harris Interactive


The Harris Poll® was conducted online within the United States May 11 and 18, 2009, among 2,681 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. Full data tables and methodology are available at www.harrisinteractive.com.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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About Harris Interactive

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Harris Interactive Inc. 6/09