Feb 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Restrictions prompt teachers to avoid political and social discussions: Report

Data: RAND Corporation; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: RAND Corporation; Chart: Axios Visuals

Local restrictions are changing the way teachers instruct students about political and social issues, particularly on race and gender, a national Rand Corp. report published Thursday found.

The big picture: Classrooms have become battlegrounds in a culture war over what kids should be exposed to, whether through attempted book bans, uproars on teaching critical race theory or other limits on discussing race, identity and gender.

What they found: 65% of all teachers nationally — those facing local, state or no restrictions — reported deciding to limit such conversations on "political and social issues" in class, the survey found.

  • That's nearly double the amount of teachers in states that have enacted policies that explicitly restrict such discussions in classrooms.

Context: From April 2021 to January 2023, 18 states passed policies focused on restricting the content of teachers' instructions, many of which included discussions of race and gender, per the Rand Corp. report based on the 2023 State of the American Teacher survey.

  • Beyond that, individual schools and local school systems can enact their own policies or issue guidance restricting how teachers can discuss political and social topics in the classroom.
  • Local districts can determine how schools operate by passing their own policies, even in states that don't have state-level restrictions.

Zoom out: More than 80% of teachers who said they were subject to local restrictions decided to limit discussions on such issues, per the report.

Meanwhile, 55% of teachers who were not subject to any state or local restrictions also limited instruction about these issues.

  • "We suspect that teachers who are not subject to such state-level restrictions are nevertheless experiencing the consequences of these policies and adjusting their instruction," the researchers concluded.

Zoom in: Teachers said they're limiting instruction on political and social issues because they fear upsetting parents and are uncertain about whether their school or district leaders would support them if parents raised concerns, per the report.

  • For teachers under local restrictions, the fear of losing their jobs or licenses drove their decisions to limit teaching about such topics.
  • Teachers also said they limited such instruction even if they were not subject to any restrictions over a lack of guidance from school or district leaders.

Of note: Teachers not subject to any state or local restrictions were more likely to limit discussions of social and political issues if they worked in politically conservative communities, the report found.

Details: The report uses data from the 2023 State of the American Teacher survey, which is a nationally representative survey of 1,439 K–12 teachers that was administered from January 11, 2023, to February 10, 2023.

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