Mathematics books cut for the treatment of the breed; a viral Twitter account that directs anger on LGBTQ teachers; a state law prohibiting classroom discussion of sexual identity in the younger grades; a children’s cartoon book considered “pornographic”. Lately, it seems like a new controversy erupts every day over how race, gender or history are dealt with in public school classrooms.
But for most parents, these worries seem to be out of mind. This was stated in a new national poll by NPR and Ipsos. With wide margins – and regardless of their political affiliation – parents express satisfaction with their children’s schools and what they are taught there.
The nationally representative survey of 1,007 parents of school-aged children follows a similar survey conducted by NPR and Ipsos about a year ago. In both surveys, parents answered questions about the impact of the pandemic on their children, academically and socially, and the performance of their schools during this period.
This year’s responses have shown positive trends as the nation continues to recover from the worst of the pandemic. Compared to 2021, a growing margin of parents say their child is “ahead” when it comes to math, reading, social skills, mental health and well-being. Fewer parents say their child is “behind” in those areas. In 2022, in fact, almost half of the parents, 47%, agreed with the statement: “the pandemic did not interrupt my child’s education”. This is up from 38% in 2021 and is a view at odds with that of most education researchers, who see large disruptions in indicators such as test scores, college attendance and enrollment. in kindergarten.
Education is a concern, but most parents say their children’s school is doing well
For decades, voters have expressed concern in polls about the state of K-12 education in the United States. But when you zoom in closer, parents seem to enjoy their children’s school and their children’s teachers even more.
This is also true in the NPR / Ipsos survey. Parents have cited education as their main concern after inflation and crime / gun violence.
However, 88% of respondents agree that “my son’s teachers did their best, given the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.” And 82% agree that “my son’s school handled the pandemic well”.
Parents feel well informed about curricula, even when there are disputes
This satisfaction extends to the hottest topics. In the survey, 76% of respondents agree that “my child’s school does a good job of keeping me informed on the curriculum, including potentially controversial topics.”
“It’s really a pretty outspoken minority that is hyper-focused on parental rights and resume decisions,” notes Mallory Newall of Ipsos, who conducted the survey.
Only 18% of parents say their children’s school taught about gender and sexuality in a way that contrasted with their family’s values; only 19% say the same about race and racism; and only 14% feel that way about US history.
Christine, a Wisconsin mother who took part in the survey, is a member of that vocal minority. She has asked not to use her surname because she says she is afraid that her son will be avenged.
Christine, who is white, says her son’s teacher made “disrespectful comments about white privileges.” She also doesn’t approve of her high school son being asked which pronouns she prefers to use. Moving to another school or district would be difficult for their family, so, says Christine, “let’s hope we can do enough countereducation at home not to be detrimental to. [his] growth and development. ”
There is a surprising lack of partisan divisions in the survey responses
As a pollster, Ipsos’ Newall says the great partisan divisions are “all I see on any topic right now”. She was struck by the relative lack of them in this poll.
Christine is the kind of disgruntled parent most often reflected in the headlines: a cultural conservative. Yet, in our survey, the minority of parents who were unhappy with how their school dealt with racism and US history were as likely to identify as Democrats as Republicans. In other words: for any parent who thinks their child’s school is too “awake”, she may have one who thinks she is not awake enough.
Jim Ondelacy is a Native American and Democrat living in North Richland Hills, Texas outside of Fort Worth. He would like his son’s high school to go deeper and teach more about the history of racism and oppression of the nation.
“It’s more of a watered-down effect … [the teachers] somehow whitewash the way history is taught to their children, “he says.
He wants the school to teach the Franco-Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War and slavery during the Revolutionary War.
“They understand what’s going on with Black Lives Matter … but they don’t really understand where it came from and how it started,” he says.
The most partisan issue in our poll was gender and sexuality, but still only a minority expressed concern. Republicans are strictly divided: 26% say schools do not teach gender and sexuality in a way that matches their family values, while 22% say schools are (the rest do not know or say that schools do not address these topics).
Among Democrats, a third agree with their school’s approach to gender and sexuality, while only 11% disagree.
Taryn Chatel, in Belmont, Michigan, is the mother of a preschool child and has a transgender family friend. She hopes the school will introduce the idea of gender diversity, so it’s not just up to her as a parent. “I really hope the district can find a way to implement it,” she says.
The silent majority of parents are indifferent
Republican governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia have helped make parental rights a major political talking point, and Republican-aligned groups like No Left Turn In Education and Parents Defending Education have continually brought these issues under the radar. spotlights.
Ralph Wilson, a researcher who studies how partisan donors support culture warfare, says these groups imply that they represent a silent majority of conservative-inclined parents. But that’s not necessarily the case, he says.
“It’s definitely an incredibly small minority that is being amplified by this large, well-funded infrastructure to appear bigger and have more founded concerns than their own.”
In fact, in our survey, about a third of parents say they “don’t know” how their children’s school addresses sexuality, gender identity, racism or patriotism. That’s far more than the percentage that expresses any problem – in some cases, double that.
Carmen Shipley, in Grand Junction, Colorado, says she “picks her fights” when it comes to her daughter’s high school.
“I know there has been some controversy … but honestly I don’t pay much attention to this, as much as others here.”
She and her neighbors tend to be conservative, and the local school board does too, so she feels like everyone agrees. “I have no problems with any of her teachers … I’m quite comfortable with all of this.”
Furthermore, he says, his priority is not culture wars; is making sure her daughter stays busy with her studies and is prepared for college.
Taylor Jennings-Brown contributed to this report.