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Polls suggest parents, teachers should influence curriculum

Written by Derek Monson

May 13, 2022

Last year, Sutherland Institute released a poll showing broad agreement between parents and teachers when it comes to civic education. More recent state and national polls show similar agreement among the general population regarding overall curriculum decisions – something that primary election candidates in Utah would do well to recognize.

A local poll commissioned in February by the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah asked a group of Utahns who should be responsible for creating and approving curriculum in K-12 education: parents, teachers, local school boards, the Utah Legislature, or federal officials? The greatest support by far, at 41%, came for “a combination” of these groups.

However, a clear break occurred among support for individual groups in the poll. The Utah Legislature and federal officials got 3% and 2% support, respectively. Higher support was given to local school boards (19%), teachers (17%) and parents (14%). Based on the margin of error, these three numbers are statistically indistinguishable from one another. Utahns seem to agree that curriculum decisions should be influenced most by people closest to schools and students rather than by people located in state and national capitals.

The results of this Utah poll align with those of a national poll released in April. The national poll asked whether Americans thought various groups of people (parents, teachers, principals, school boards, state governments and the federal government) had “too much,” “too little” or “about the right amount” of influence on public school curriculum.

A slight majority of Americans in the poll thought that parents (50%) and teachers (51%) had too little influence on public school curriculum. A significant plurality believe that principals (45%) and school boards (44%) have about the right amount of influence. And comparable numbers of Americans believe that state governments and the federal government have too much influence on curriculum in public schools (45% and 43%, respectively).

While the national poll question was different than the Utah poll question, respondents’ answers reflect a similar dynamic: parents and teachers should have greater involvement in curriculum decisions and state and federal governments should have less. The broad agreement highlighted by these poll results point directly to a straightforward policy solution: improved curriculum transparency.

One way to empower parents and teachers to have greater influence on curriculum is to ensure that school district curriculum recommendations and decisions are made in an overtly transparent way. Transparency in the school district curriculum decision-making process invites (and should require) input from parents of students in schools and the teachers who instruct them. By inviting this input from teachers and parents, transparency done right can serve to strengthen the parent-teacher partnership in the education of children.

The similar levels of support among Utahns and Americans for parents and teachers having greater influence over curriculum suggests that people inherently understand this partnership. While partisan and media forces often portray a narrative of division between teachers and parents based on interest group differences, polling research has highlighted (and continues to highlight) the broad agreement among parents and teachers on many education issues.

As primary ballots go out soon for the June primary election, those seeking election should remember that agreement between parents and teachers is the norm, not the exception. If they do, there is hope that future education policy decisions will reflect the people’s will, rather than frustrating it.

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