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Parents Differ Sharply by Party Over What Their K-12 Children Should Learn in School

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Parents Differ Sharply by Party Over What Their K-12 Children Should Learn in School

But majorities of both Republican and Democratic parents are satisfied with the quality of their children’s education

BY JULIANA MENASCE HOROWITZ, PEW Research



As the midterm election approaches, issues related to K-12 schools have become deeply polarized. Republican and Democratic parents of K-12 students have widely different views on what their children should learn at school about gender identity, slavery and other topics, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.



They also offer different assessments of the influence parents, local school boards and other key players have on what public K-12 schools in their area are teaching. Republican parents with children in K-12 schools are about twice as likely as Democratic parents to say parents don’t have enough influence (44% vs. 23%, including those who lean to each party). And Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say school boards have too much influence (30% vs. 17%). These parents also differ over the amount of input they personally have when it comes to what their own children are learning in school.


At the same time, Republican and Democratic parents – including those with children in public schools – are equally likely to say they are extremely or very satisfied with the quality of the education their children are receiving (58% each) and that the teachers and administrators at their children’s schools have values that are similar to their own (54% each).


When it comes to what their children are learning in school, U.S. parents of K-12 students are divided over what they think their children should learn about gender identity: 31% say they would prefer that their children learn that whether someone is a boy or a girl is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth, and the same share say they’d rather their children learn that someone can be a boy or a girl even if that’s different from their sex at birth. A 37% plurality say their children shouldn’t learn about this in school.


There is also no consensus when it comes to what parents want their children to learn about slavery: 49% say they would prefer that their children learn that the legacy of slavery still affects the position of Black people in American society today, while a smaller but sizable share (42%) would prefer that their children learn that slavery is part of American history but doesn’t affect the position of Black people in American society today.


On both gender identity and the legacy of slavery, there are differences ranging from 23 to 46 percentage points in what Republican and Democratic parents of K-12 students would prefer that their children learn in school. There are also large partisan differences when it comes to what parents want their K-12 children to learn about sex education and America’s standing in the world.




When asked to assess the quality of the education their children are receiving, a majority of U.S. parents of K-12 students (57%) say they are extremely or very satisfied. However, fewer than half (40%) express similar levels of satisfaction with the amount of input they have in what their children learn in school. Parents who are extremely or very satisfied with the amount of input they have express higher levels of satisfaction with the overall quality of their children’s education than those who are somewhat satisfied or who are not too or not at all satisfied with how much say they have in what their children learn in school.



In addition to asking parents about how much influence parents and the school board have on what’s being taught in their local schools, parents were asked about the influence of the federal and state government, teachers, principals and students. While many parents say each of these has the right amount of influence or that they aren’t sure, larger shares say their state government, the federal government and their local school board have too much influence than say they don’t have enough influence. Conversely, more say parents, teachers, students and principals don’t have enough influence than say they have too much.


The nationally representative survey of 3,251 U.S. parents of K-12 students was conducted Sept. 20-Oct. 2, 2022, using the Center’s American Trends Panel.1 Among the other key findings:


Upper-income parents and parents answering about a child in private school express higher levels of satisfaction with the quality of their children’s education. About eight-in-ten parents answering about a student in a private K-12 school (79%) say they are extremely or very satisfied with the quality of the education their child is receiving, compared with 55% of those answering about a child in a public school.2 About two-thirds of upper-income parents (66%) express high levels of satisfaction, compared with 58% of those with middle incomes and a smaller share of those with lower incomes (52%).3 The difference between upper- and lower-income parents remains when looking only at those answering about a child in public school (the sample size for parents answering about private school children is too small to analyze separately).


One-in-five parents of K-12 students say their children’s school doesn’t spend enough time on core academic subjects like reading, math, science and social studies. The shares saying this are higher among fathers (24%) than mothers (17%) and among Republican and Republican-leaning parents (23%) than those who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (17%). But majorities of 70% or more say their children’s school spends about the right amount of time on these subjects.


About two-thirds of parents say it is extremely or very important to them that their children’s school teaches them to develop social and emotional skills. Parents of elementary school students (69%) are more likely than parents of high school students (59%) to say it’s at least very important to them that their children’s school teaches these skills (64% of parents of middle schoolers say the same). And while majorities of Democratic and Republican parents say this is extremely or very important to them, this is a more common view among Democrats (74% vs. 57% of Republican parents).


Parents of K-12 students have mixed views about whether public school teachers should be allowed to lead students in prayer. About half of parents (52%) say this shouldn’t be allowed in any form, while 27% say leading students in Christian prayers should only be allowed if prayers from other religions are also offered and 19% say it should be allowed even if prayers from other religions are not offered. Among Democratic parents, 63% say public school teachers shouldn’t be allowed to lead students in any type of prayers; 39% of Republican parents say the same.


Read the full report (link below)

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