The war of educational cultures is raging. But for most parents, it’s background noise

Mathematics textbooks suppressed for their treatment of race; a viral twitter account directing anger against LGBTQ teachers; a state law ban discussion in class gender identity in the early grades; a baby board book targeted as “pornographic”. Lately, it seems like a new controversy is erupting every day over how race, gender, or history are discussed in public school classrooms.

But for most parents, these concerns seem to be a low priority. It depends a new national poll conducted by NPR and Ipsos. To a large extent – ​​and regardless of their political affiliation – parents express satisfaction with their children’s schools and with what is taught there.

Nationally representative survey of 1,007 parents of school-aged children follows a similar survey NPR and Ipsos led about a year ago. In both surveys, parents answered questions about the impact of the pandemic on their children, academically and socially, and how their schools are performing during this time.

This year’s responses showed positive trends as the country continues to recover from the worst of the pandemic. Compared to 2021, a growing margin of parents say their child is “ahead” in math, reading, social skills, mental health and wellbeing. Fewer parents say their child is “behind” in these areas. Indeed, in 2022, almost half of parents, 47%, agree with the statement: “the pandemic has not disrupted my child’s education”. This represents an increase from 38% in 2021, and it is a view at odds with that of most education researchers, who see large disruptions in indicators such as test results, college attendanceand preschool enrollment.

Education is a concern, but most parents say their own children’s school is doing well

For decades, voters have Express worry in surveys of the state of K-12 education in the United States But when you zoom in closer, parents seem like their children’s schooland they love their children’s teachers even more.

This is also true in the NPR/Ipsos poll. Parents cited education as their top concern after inflation and crime/gun violence.

However, 88% of respondents agree that “my child’s teacher(s) did their best, given the circumstances surrounding the pandemic”. And 82% agree that “my child’s school has handled the pandemic well”.

Parents feel well-informed about programs, even when controversial

This satisfaction extends to hot topics. In the survey, 76% of respondents agree that “my child’s school is doing a good job of keeping me informed about the curriculum, including potentially controversial topics.”

It really is a pretty vocal minority that is hyper-focused on parental rights and curriculum decisions.

“It really is a pretty vocal minority who are hyper-focused on parental rights and decisions about the program,” observes Mallory Newall of Ipsos, who conducted the poll.

Only 18% of parents say their child’s school has taught gender and sexuality in a way that goes against their family’s values; only 19% say the same about race and racism; and only 14% think that way about US history.

Christine, a mother from Wisconsin who participated in the survey, is part of this vocal minority. She has asked not to use her surname as she says she is afraid her child will be retaliated against.

Christine, who is white, says her son’s teacher made “sarcastic comments about white privilege”. She also doesn’t approve of her son, who is in high school, being asked which pronouns he prefers to use. Changing schools or districts would be hard on their family, so, says Christine, “hopefully we can do enough counter-education at home that it doesn’t hurt [his] growth and development.”

There is a striking lack of partisan divides in poll responses

As a pollster, Newall at Ipsos says major partisan divisions are “all I see on any topic right now.” She was struck by their relative absence in this poll.

Christine is the type of disgruntled parent who most often makes the headlines: a cultural conservative. Yet in our survey, the minority of parents who were dissatisfied with their school’s approach to racism and US history were just as likely to identify as Democrats as Republicans. In other words: for every parent who thinks their child’s school is too “awake,” there might be one who thinks it’s not wide enough.

Jim Ondelacy is a Native American and Democrat living in North Richland Hills, Texas outside of Fort Worth. He wants his son’s high school to go deeper and teach more about the nation’s history of racism and oppression.

“It’s more of a water effect… [the teachers] kind of whitewash the way history is taught to their children,” he says.

He wants the school to teach about the French and 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 only a minority expressed concern. Republicans are narrowly divided: 26% say schools don’t teach about gender and sexuality in a way that aligns with their family values, while 22% say schools do (the rest don’t know or say that schools do not address these topics).

Among Democrats, one-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 kindergarten child and has a family friend who is transgender. She hopes the school will introduce the idea of ​​gender diversity, so it’s not all up to her as a parent. “I really hope the district finds a way to implement this,” she says.

The silent majority of parents are indifferent

Republican governors like Ron DeSantis in Florida and Glenn Youngkin in Virginia helped make parental rights in big topic of political discussionand Republican-aligned groups like No Left Turn In Education and Parents Defending Education have continually brought these issues to the fore.

It is certainly an incredibly small minority that is amplified with this large, well-funded infrastructure to appear larger and have more grounded concerns than they do.

Ralph Wilson, a researcher who studies how partisan donors support the culture war, says these groups imply that they represent a silent majority of conservative-leaning parents. But that’s not necessarily the case, he says.

“It’s certainly an incredibly small minority who are amplified with this large, well-funded infrastructure to look bigger and have more grounded concerns than they do.”

In fact, in our survey, about a third of parents say they “don’t know” how their child’s school addresses sexuality, gender identity, racism or patriotism. This is far more than the percentage that expresses a problem – in some cases, twice as much.

Carmen Shipley, in Grand Junction, Colorado, says she’s “picking her battles” when it comes to her daughter’s high school.

“I know there’s been some controversy…but honestly, I don’t pay much attention to it, as much as others here.”

She and her neighbors tend to be conservative, and the local school board does the same, so she feels like everyone is on the same page. “I have no problem with any of his teachers…I’m pretty comfortable with it all.”

Plus, she says, her top priority isn’t the culture wars; it’s about making sure her daughter stays engaged in her studies and is prepared for college.

Taylor Jennings-Brown contributed to this report.

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