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Amid Demands For Curriculum Transparency, Poll Shows Americans Want Parents To Shape Schools

New survey findings indicate Americans want parents to have increased oversight, as opposed to teachers, school boards, and government forces wielding power. They come as state legislatures seek to pass laws requiring schools to be transparent about what kids learn by disclosing curriculum materials.

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State published the results of its poll Monday. It asked respondents how much influence various groups should have on the teaching of controversial topics in schools. The group that the most respondents said should have a “great deal of influence” is parents.

Forty-one percent said parents should have a great deal of influence on “the teaching of slavery and racism,” followed by 33% saying teachers. Respondents also want parents to have more influence over sex education. Fifty-one percent said parents should have influence, while 40% said teachers should.

In the bottom category for the categories of “Slavery & racism,” “evolution,” and “sexual education,” were state legislatures and governors. School boards and education departments polled not much higher.

“The poll reaffirms the fact that parents have a vital role in the upbringing of their children,” Matt Beienburg, education policy director at The Goldwater Institute, a free-market think tank, told The Daily Wire. “These polling results directly refute the claims that we’re hearing from activists and academics, like the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] or Nikole Hannah-Jones — who have suggested that essentially parents ought to butt out of the process and leave it to the so-called professionals.”

Most Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents (59%) said parents should have a great deal of influence on how slavery and race are taught, while only 24% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning individuals surveyed did. Most Republicans and GOP-leaning people polled (72%) also wanted parents to have influence over sex education, while only 31% of Democrats did.

“The ideological divide between conservatives and those who lean left is increasingly stark,” Beienburg said. “We’re seeing energy and support among the Right for parents’ rights — as opposed to the Left — which I think sees parents as an obstacle. That’s come in the form of the infamous letter from the National School Boards Association, or the [Biden] administration, labeling parents on par with domestic terrorists.”

When it comes to COVID-19 safety protocols, findings show 46% of respondents think parents should have a great deal of influence, followed by state agencies and teachers. Sixty-three percent of Republicans/GOP-leaning supported a great deal of parent influence, whereas 31% of Democrats/Dem-leaning did. 

The institute’s findings come as at least 12 states are considering bills to require curriculum transparency. The legislation would mandate schools to post teaching materials online, including videos, books, and articles.

Democrats have mobilized to oppose transparency. Joined by teachers unions, lawmakers are trying to block the GOP-led bills surfacing. Union leaders, like Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, have suggested that schools already have transparency measures in place.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, a group that stood against former President Barack Obama’s Common Core schools initiative, told The Daily Wire that curriculum transparency simply means residents have a right to see exactly what the schools they fund are teaching children.

After all, communities reviewing specific lesson plans and then debating their merits specifically could be more productive, and potentially less vitriolic, than abstract disputes, such as around the meaning of “critical race theory.” If divisive topics are not taught in schools, as some Democrats claim, then curriculum transparency could also help put those fears to rest.

“Schools have embedded a curriculum that entails what most of us call critical race theory, although they might not want to hear that term employed,” Wood said. “It is a curriculum that embeds a radical view of race relations in America and getting rid of it is going to necessarily entail some changes.”

GOP-led legislatures in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin passed transparency measures last year, but the Democrat governors vetoed them. As GOP members push for similar legislation in Michigan, Pamela Pugh, a Democrat who is the state’s board of education vice president, said, “It’s scare tactics and intimidation meant to cause mass chaos, mass confusion, and disruption to our education system.”

The Goldwater Institute is one of the groups pushing for transparency. It unveiled legislation to serve as a template for legislatures pushing for parental access to digital materials used in curricula. The group’s legislation, which Beienburg worked on, calls for the following to be publicly accessible on public school websites:

(1) The learning materials and activities that were used for student instruction at the school during the most recently completed school year, organized at a minimum by subject area and grade. (2) Any procedures in effect for the documentation, review, or approval by the principal, administrators, or other teachers regarding the learning materials and activities used for student instruction at the school.

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