Throughout my 28-year career as a teacher, principal and superintendent in Texas public schools, I have witnessed with awe the work educators do every day. What a blessing it has been to be in a profession with people who give so much of themselves in the service of children, communities and our democracy, and who ask for so little in return.
It was in this context that I read with great interest the results of a first-of-its-kind poll on Texans’ perspectives on public education recently released by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. I know my experience, but what do my fellow Texans actually think about our public schools?
Well, there is a ton of good news in the data. For instance, 77% of Texans have trust and confidence in our state’s teachers, which is 16 percentage points higher than the national average. It’s no surprise that 93% of Texans believe teacher quality is very important. Also, more than two-thirds of Texans polled give the school of their oldest child an A or B. In fact, as their knowledge about their schools increases, so do their favorable perceptions. Even in this day and age with the division we see across our nation, the vast majority of Texans agree that their teachers and schools are doing well. That is good for all of us.
The poll data also shows there is work to do. For instance, 70% of Texans feel that teachers are underpaid and undervalued, and less than one-half of parents would be happy for their child to pursue teaching careers due to concerns about pay, job stress and an overemphasis on standardized tests (which concern 60% of Texans, by the way). Those numbers do not create trust and confidence in our state’s ability to avoid a shortage of dedicated, quality teachers in the future. In fact, those results should light a fire under us all to see that every Texas teacher is treated with the respect they deserve as a professional – especially in how they are compensated.
How can we, as a state, achieve increased financial support for teachers? While respondents to the poll said that the greatest challenge facing schools is lack of funds, a majority — 62% — said they support an increase in school funding. Texans also think that after-school programs (88%) and mental health services (84%) are important wrap-around services that should be provided to students in our schools.
I encourage all Texans to read through the results of the new poll by Raise Your Hand Texas. It’s a great way to gain perspective on how Texans’ opinions on public education have changed over time, what the people of our state value, and which state policies move the needle for better or worse. With the Texas Legislature’s recent passage of House Bill 3, landmark legislation for public schools, it will be interesting to see how public perceptions evolve. This type of poll gives us a pulse on Texans and insights into better decision-making in the future.
Although we all have work to do in public education, I believe our public schools are doing an excellent and important job, led by selfless individuals who both lift up their students and our state. Apparently, most Texans agree.