A recent SoonerPoll finds that a majority of Oklahomans think teachers unions getting in the way of public school improvement.

When asked which view comes closed to their own, 55.4 percent of those polled said ‘teachers unions are an obstacle that keeps schools form getting better,’ compared to only 24.5 percent who said ‘teachers unions help make schools better.’  I large number of respondents, 20.1 percent, remained neutral of had no opinion on the issue.

A nationwide Time Magazine poll conducted in August of this year asked the same question and found that 50 percent of those polled said ‘teachers unions are an obstacle that keeps schools form getting better,’ while 35 percent said ‘teachers unions help make schools better.’

In recent years the school choice movement, which argues that public scholarships given to private schools will help improve the education system by giving alternatives to children currently in public school, has gained ground  nationally and here in Oklahoma, especially among conservatives.  Not surprisingly, Oklahoma, one of the most conservative states in the nation, trends slightly ahead of the nation in ‘teachers unions are an obstacle’ responses.

Further crosstab analysis finds that 64.8 percent of conservatives think teachers unions are an obstacle compared to about half, 48.2 percent, of liberals.   Inversely, only 15.3 percent of conservatives think teachers unions help make schools better compared to 33.3 percent of liberals.

Teachers unions have stood in staunch opposition to the school choice movement, which they see as a threat because many of its policies may lead to competition for education funding.

Despite union criticism, the school choice movement has enjoyed remarkable gains in positive public opinion in the last few years.

“The teacher unions in Oklahoma may begin to question the wisdom of putting State Question 744 on the ballot earlier this month, an initiative with no accountability or reforms,” Bill Shapard, CEO of SoonerPoll.com, said.  “Keep in mind a majority of Democrats and moderate voters voted against 744, and they are a base that teachers unions cannot afford to alienate if they want to succeed in the future.”

The gains the school choice movement has seen in public opinion are likely to continue with the renewed focus of the mainstream media on education reform.  The release of the movie “Waiting for Superman,” which chronicles the falling quality of education in public schools while arguing for school choice as the answer, is one example of how the mass media has served as a powerful tool in creating a renewed interest in education reform, specifically school choice education reform.

SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, was commissioned for this poll by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.  SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 518 likely voters from Nov. 5 – 11. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.3 percent.

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