According to a recent poll, the American public trusts Republicans almost as much as Democrats when it comes to education. This represents a significant leveling of the playing field on an issue that has traditionally been a boon for the political left.
In August 2022 Fox News survey48% of voters said they thought Democrats would do a better job on education, while 46% said Republicans would do better. Democrats for Education Reform Group Questionnaire. said In the past, Democrats had a “double-digit lead” on education, and this was a “historic” shift.
Concerns about parental rights, gender ideology and the politicization of education have pushed education voters to the right, while Democrats still hold the upper hand on issues such as banning books and education funding.
In another recent one survey commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union, a majority of voters said they wanted schools to return to the basics of teaching math and reading while raising the bar for students. This frustration among parents may increase with the recent release national test results which show big drops in reading and math scores for students, especially those who were already struggling.
In an AFT poll of registered voters in several states, including Arizona and Nevada, respondents identified the politicization of schools as the top problem in education, with more respondents blaming the Democratic shift. Respondents also expressed concern about the teaching of sexual preference and gender identity in schools, with 58% saying they were “dissatisfied” with “how students are taught about issues related to sexual preference and gender identity”.
When asked why respondents were unhappy with the way gender identity and sexual preferences are taught in school, the top answers were “students are too young for the material” and “parents are responsible for teaching the material”.
While education may play less of a role in voting for congressional candidates in midterm elections, it may be more of an issue in gubernatorial and state legislative elections. And that could be a problem for Democrats.
John Valant, director of the Brown Center for Education Policy at Brookings, said that between school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of the culture war, Republicans have managed to beat Democrats on education. But he sees it as a problem Democrats can overcome — if they want to.
“Republicans have effectively portrayed Democrats as extreme on education. It’s a failure of the Democratic Party’s messaging,” Valant said.
Valant pointed to the victorious campaign of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who ran as a pro-parental education advocate, portraying Democrats as extremists, as an example of how Democrats have ceded control of education issues to Republicans.
Max Eden, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Education, said school closures during the pandemic and cultural issues such as gender ideology and critical race theory have steered voters toward Republicans on education.
Historically, Democrats have had an edge on education issues, he said. But after the pandemic, when Democrats were seen as pro-school closures and Republicans favored keeping schools open, voters shifted, he said.
He said voters are also leaning more toward Republicans on cultural issues, pointing to an AFT poll as evidence that this is true.
“Their own polling showed that Republican messaging on this issue played very well with their audience,” he said.
Republicans in states like Arizona and Texas have had some success promoting universal school choice as a policy solution to current school problems, Eden said. He said he also wants state and local candidates to promote a more knowledge-rich curriculum, especially as the latest test scores come out.
The estimates show just how brutal the loss of learning has been for many schoolchildren across the country the worst slumps comes for students who were already at the bottom of the curve.
Voters will expect Democrats and Republicans to propose ways schools should address those declines, though that may be difficult to do as candidates from both parties remain mired in culture war issues.
Valant said he would like Democrats to turn to the debate on issues such as increasing funding for “high-quality instructional time” through tutoring and expanding classroom hours, as well as highlighting cultural issues on which he believes they have an advantage — such as , classroom safety and banning books.
“I think the Republicans are going to win on education until the Democrats stop letting them win on education,” he said.
Eden said he doesn’t expect the culture war debate to die down anytime soon, especially if some educators who are active on social media detail how they are store information from parents or bring a personal ideology into the classroom, stoking concern among parents of all political stripes.
“There are structural forces at the local and state level in educational institutions that are pushing (cultural issues), and they’re not going to stop because of a few bad polls,” he said.
Eden pointed to teacher unions, the professional development industry, and teacher training schools as entrenched interests on the political left that have been “infused with a progressive cultural agenda” and will continue to push progressive ideas into the classroom.
“I fear that the problems of the culture war will remain,” he said.