Being a practicing skeptic and semi-professional cynic, I don’t take surveys too seriously. Most polls published these days are paid for by some company or organization who want to support their view of the world. Once you know who’s behind the curtain it becomes much easier to understand the results. What would be really interesting is to see the surveys that were completed but not published.

What is the new survey on the attitudes of American teachers by an outfit called Public Agenda trying to tell us? 76% of the teachers surveyed think they’ve been made scapegoats for the country’s educational problems. 78% said some of their colleagues were incompetent. Several questions have high percentages teachers saying they don’t like or trust standardized tests. Several more questions show that teachers are not sure about merit pay systems. None of these conclusions should surprise anyone who has taught for more than a few years.

So, who’s paying the bills for this survey? You might get a clue from the full title of the survey: "Stand by Me: What Teachers Really Think about Unions, Merit Pay and Other Professional Matters". Another clue comes from the prominence that questions about union support have in the survey and the high degree of support for unions. Sure enough, if you click on the link for What is Public Agenda? and scroll down to the bottom you find that funding for the organization comes from many different foundations (most of which are involved with public education) and the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

Does this mean the survey is rigged? Maybe not but “adjusting” poll results is not hard depending how the questions are written. It does mean that you would never have read about the results if it didn’t align so closely with the agenda of the two unions. Or is that just the cynic in me talking?