In 2012 Democrats had a solid 26 point edge over Republicans when it came to education. That’s dwindled down to a mere five this year. As Politico reports new national polls of voters and teachers help explain why:

Third Way commissioned a national poll of voters and a separate survey of teachers and found that the top two phrases Americans associate with Democrats’ education policy are “pouring money into a broken system” and “blaming poverty for problems with public education.” Those sentiments prevailed even among teachers. Voters also see Democrats as defending the status quo — and they’re not happy with that status quo. The poll found voters still think highly of teachers, calling them “dedicated,” “underpaid” and “overworked,” but they’re not confident teachers are rewarded (or fired) based on their performance in the classroom. And they fear that high-achieving college students are shying away from the teaching profession. (One eye-opening factoid: Only 13 percent of teachers would advise a young person to go into the field.)

Don’t expect the Democrats to embrace private school parental choice any time soon, though. The Third Way researchers did recommend several policies to modernize the teaching profession, including retaining and paying teachers based on their performance, not time teaching.

The data shows that there’s a path forward for Democrats that demonstrates they are willing to disrupt the status quo and doesn’t poke a finger in the eye of their base,”  said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of Third Way’s Social Policy & Politics program. “That’s an agenda to modernize the teaching profession. Liberals like it, teachers like it, voters like it. And enacting it would significantly improve education in this country.”

What should Republicans take away from these findings? The best way to ensure teachers are hired and compensated professionally is by expanding competition for students through parental choice. Schools that have to compete for students feel powerful pressure to direct resources to the classroom—to teacher salaries in particular. Why? Parents who want high quality academics for their children demand high quality, effective teachers.

So structured, teachers, not bloated administration, are schools’ best assets so they’d recruit and reward the best and the brightest.