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To paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of respect for American teachers is greatly exaggerated. In fact, according to a new poll from NPR and Ipsos, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents “share a sweeping respect for teachers and broad agreement that they’re overworked and should be better paid.”
That’s not to see there aren’t partisan differences within groups, especially as the pollsters look more deeply into the educational beliefs of 1,500 people. But those polled (parents were oversampled) mostly trust teachers to make decisions about what children learn in school–including what they read.
Sure, the culture wars complicate things but not as much as you’d think.
Here are four takeaways from the poll:
- Three-quarters of K-12 parents say they trust their child’s teacher to make decisions about classroom curriculum. This majority sentiment is consistent among K-12 parents across party lines, including 84% of Democrats, 67% of Republicans, and 74% of independents.
- Despite this overwhelming trust for teachers among K-12 parents, both the American public and K-12 parents alike are split on who they think should be primarily responsible for decisions on what is taught in public school. About three in ten Americans say teachers (30%) or parents (27%), and about a quarter (26%) say school boards. Among K-12 parents, 30% say teachers, 28% say parents, and 25% say school boards.
- On the other hand, K-12 teachers are less divided than parents over who should be primarily responsible for what is taught in public schools: 60% say teachers, 15% say school boards, and 10% say parents.
- When it comes to politicians, though, fewer than one in ten Americans and K-12 parents alike say federal legislators (8% and 7%, respectively) or state legislators (6% and 8%, respectively) should be primarily responsible for what is taught in public schools. A similar percentage of K-12 teachers say the same (7% for both state and federal legislators).
In other words, Americans don’t want politicians or school boards to make decisions about what their kids learn and what books they should read (69% of all those polled don’t want legislators to decide and 64% don’t want school boards making those decisions.) Overall, book bans have the support of just 5% of Democrats, 16% of Independents and 35% of Republicans.
Yet then things get a little muddy.. While 75% of Americans agree that “teachers are professionals who should be trusted to make decisions about classroom curriculum.” there are differences of opinion regarding who should be the primary Decider:
Mallory Newall, a vice president at Ipsos, has a theory of what’s going on here. The culture wars in schools—all the drama about drag queen story hours and structural racism—are being waged, she says, “by an outspoken minority of politicians, parents, and activists” who don’t speak for a majority of Americans or even a majority of Republicans.
“It’s really this focus, I think, on some of the most extreme voices that has made teachers feel persecuted or feel like their job has gotten harder,” Newall says, “and that’s not how the vast majority of the American public feels.