Are K-12 education politics cooling off?

More parents said they were "very satisfied" with instruction at their children's schools in a new analysis, but education will remain a major issue in the midterm elections.

Here’s a bit of relief for superintendents and their teams: Some of the furor that has boiled up around education politics is beginning to ebb. With most schools now leaving masks and other COVID safety precautions behind, parents appear to be less distressed about their children’s academic and social-emotional wellbeing, according to a new Education Next analysis.

More parents this spring said they were “very satisfied” with the instruction and activities provided by their children’s schools. Nearly half of parents expressed this sentiment at the end of this past school year compared to the 31% who said the same in fall 2020, EducationNext‘s survey said.

Looking at race, one of the most high-profile political issues, nearly two-thirds of parents said they supported how their children’s schools were teaching about slavery and racism. But there was also a slight decline in the number of parents who gave their school an A or B grade for overall performance. And a higher number of parents took their children out of public schools, the survey found.

“Despite partisan differences in responses to COVID, the parents of children in states both blue and red report less anxiety about their children’s academic and social progress than was the case two years earlier,” the report says.

Election issues illuminated

Even as parents may be mellowing, various battles over education will be major issues in the mid-term elections. And in some places, voters seem to have different priorities than do their elected officials. In Iowa, residents said in a poll that education is a major issue in this fall’s election. The Des Moines Register survey found voters place much more importance on overall education policy than on the school choice programs that Gov. Kim Reynolds has touted in her re-election campaign.

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Social-emotional learning has come under assault from some conservative activists. But parents in Ohio—which Donald Trump won in the 2020 election—expressed strong support for SEL and whole-child instruction concepts in a recent survey. Even parents who were not familiar with the term SEL broadly supported schools’ efforts to teach students to manage emotions, work well with others, show empathy and achieve personal and collective goals, among other skills, according to the report by the Children’s Defense Fund Ohio and Baldwin-Wallace University.

Many Ohio parents also said they trusted their child’s teachers to teach age-appropriate content and that schools should receive more funding to provide mental health care.

Kansas’ Democratic governor Laura Kelly has been attacked by her Republican rival for the amount of time the state’s schools were shut down during the pandemic and the mental toll the closures took on children. Education is one of the top three issues in the race in which Kelly has been touting her efforts to fully fund K-12 schools, The Topeka Captial-Journal reported.

More education politics hotspots

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Earlier this month, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem proposed new social studies standards that The Associated Press described as “a mostly shining vision of American history.” Noem’s previous set of proposed standards was criticized heavily by both Native American educators and conservative groups, the AP reported.

“These standards raise the bar for the breadth and depth of civics and history education,” Noem said in a statement about her latest proposal. “They feature a true, honest, and balanced approach to American history that is not influenced by political agendas.”

LGBTQ issues also remain a flashpoint in some states. A Wisconsin school board this week banned the display of Pride flags and the listing of preferred pronouns in staff email signatures, reported. The Kettle Moraine school board decided the flags and pronouns violated district policy that prohibits teachers from promoting political or religious beliefs.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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