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Poll Shows Strong Support for Public School Teachers in Their Fight for Quality Schools

Public lacks confidence in CEO Brizard and Chicago Board of Ed

CHICAGO - A recent survey of likely voters in Chicago reveals strong public support for the city’s public school teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Their popularity is cast in high relief against the Board—and intense—disfavor that voters have toward the Board of Education and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Jean-Claude Brizard. Compounding the problems for the Board and Brizard, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s image is now in decline as well, with voters especially critical of his handling of education. Consequently, Chicago public school teachers and their union are uniquely positioned to champion reforms that not only enjoy broad public support but benefit public schoolchildren as well. 

  • Nearly three-quarters of Chicago voters have a favorable impression of Chicago public school teachers (74% favorable, 35% very favorable), and a solid majority of voters also holds positive opinions of the Chicago Teachers Union (57% favorable, 29% very favorable).  Just 15% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of teachers and 26% have an unfavorable opinion of the union.
  • In contrast, voters are highly critical of the Board of Education and CEO of Public Schools Jean-Claude Brizard. By two-to-one margins, voters rate the jobs being done by the Board of Education (27% excellent/good to 62% just fair/poor) and Brizard (21% excellent/good to 44% just fair/poor) negatively.
  • While polling from the summer of 2011 showed Rahm Emanuel fairly well regarded by the city’s voters, the mayor’s image has suffered in the intervening months. Emanuel’s personal favorability has dropped since last summer and his unfavorable ratings have jumped 11 points.[1] The deterioration in Emanuel’s image is most pronounced, however, in his job performance ratings. In August of 2011, 53% of voters thought he was doing a good or excellent job and 31% thought he was doing just a fair or poor job. Today, Emanuel’s job performance rating is evenly divided, with negative evaluations of his handling of the job surging by 16 points: 47% excellent/good to 47% just fair/poor. Hinting at one of the causes of this precipitous decline, perceptions of the mayor’s performance on education are even worse than his overall ratings (44% excellent/good to 46% just fair/poor).

The notion of education reform is not a contentious issue for the vast majority of Chicago voters, as 82% consider reform either extremely or very important. However, not all reform is viewed the same and the shape that reform takes has the ability to alienate the mayor, CEO Brizard, and the Board of Education even further.

  • At the outset, the electorate rejects the mayor’s proposal to close, consolidate, and phase out chronically underperforming schools: 41% favor to 47% oppose. Simulating an engaged debate over the issue quickly vaults the union’s position to an even more decisive lead (31% favor to 59% oppose).



(SOME PEOPLE/OTHER PEOPLE) say the plan to close, merge, or phase out chronically underperforming schools is long overdue and is the least we can do to ensure that every child in Chicago gets a quality education. This plan is necessary to help prepare students for the challenges of a 21st century economy. It’s time to stop protecting poorly performing teachers and schools.

(SOME PEOPLE/OTHER PEOPLE) say class sizes of Chicago schools are already larger than those in 95% of school districts across the state. Consolidating and closing schools will only lead to more overcrowding, a higher teacher-to-student ratio, and will make it harder for children to learn and for teachers to give children the individualized attention they need.   

31% agree

59% agree

Voters also side with the Chicago Teachers Union on the issue of merit pay, opposing basing a teacher’s salary on state test scores by a net of 10 points. Given voters’ support for public school teachers and their union, it is perhaps not surprising that many voters are willing to countenance a teachers’ strike over the Chicago Board of Education’s decision last year to cancel the 4% cost-of-living increases in teachers’ contracts while lengthening the school day and year (which together would have come out to a more than 25% pay cut). Fully 36% would support a strike, and another quarter of voters (26%) are unsure. The percentage supporting a strike is within the margin of error of the 39% who would oppose a strike.


Bottom Line: Chicago voters hold their public school teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union in very high regard, their popularity contrasting sharply with the disdain voters show toward the Board of Education and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Moreover, the mayor appears to be paying a price for his close ties to the Board and Brizard and their antagonism of Chicago public school teachers.


For 75 Years the Chicago Teachers Union has been in the forefront of strengthening public education in Chicago. The Chicago Teachers Union represents 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in the Chicago Public Schools and, by extension, the students and families they serve. CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, is the third largest teachers local in the country and the largest local union in Illinois. For more information visit CTU’s website at


[1] Lake Research Partners. N=723 General Election voters in Chicago, including oversamples of 100 Latino voters and 20 parents. August 1st through August 7th, 2011. Margin of error: +/- 3.6%.

Chicago Teachers Union