Press Releases | Intellectual Diversity

ACTA Survey: Citizens of Illinois strongly support free speech; do not favor politicizing K-12 education

March 11, 2021 by ACTA

WASHINGTON, DC – A telephone survey of 800 Illinois residents conducted from February 17—21 finds low levels of support for politicizing public education at the K-12 and postsecondary levels.

In contrast, Illinoisans surveyed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) favor a focus on core competencies and civic education in public schools and universities. For example, 62% of respondents answered that “K-12 teachers should work to expose students to a variety of perspectives about the country’s founding and history . . . to equip them to think critically about its successes and failures,” compared to 23% who favor “K-12 teachers should embrace progressive viewpoints and perspectives when teaching U.S. history, to encourage students to advocate for social justice causes.” Similarly, 57% answered that teacher preparation should focus “on making teachers better equipped to help students develop core skills and competencies” compared to 34% who answered that teacher training should “prioritize teaching progressive viewpoints and social justice advocacy.”

At the postsecondary level, strong majorities oppose reducing police presence on campus; support viewpoint diversity; favor a merit-based application process; and prioritize reducing the cost of tuition over expanding diversity and equity programs.

  • 69% favored the viewpoint that “freedom of speech and open deliberation is the foundation of our democracy.”
  • Yet, 64% reported that they stop themselves from expressing their opinion on controversial political and social issues “often” or “sometimes.”
  • 54% said that public universities should “prioritize lowering tuition, even if it means cutting funding to diversity and inclusion programs.”  
  • 63% responded that college applicants “should be treated equally based on merit even if that results in less racial diversity at selective colleges and universities.” 

The survey, commissioned by ACTA in response to a rule approved by the Illinois State Board of Education, was conducted by eighteen92, a national pollster with extensive experience in Illinois. The new Illinois Department of Education regulation, “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards,” will take effect this year and calls upon teachers to work “to reform [political] institutions whenever and wherever necessary” and to “[promote] student advocacy.”

“Majorities of Independents agree with Republicans on almost every point we examined. In some cases, so do pluralities of Democrats,” said Jonathan Pidluzny, ACTA’s vice president of academic affairs. “That, to me, is one of the most interesting general findings in the survey. The politicization of the K-12 classroom and higher education is completely out of step with public opinion across the political spectrum.”

“Given the recent adoption of the new Illinois Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards, ACTA decided to find out the extent to which Illinois residents believe that an intervention of this nature is warranted,” said ACTA President Michael Poliakoff. “The data illustrates that the citizens of Illinois want politics out of the classroom and are in favor of a robust education that will prepare students for an ever-evolving workforce. Clearly, Illinois educators and legislators should take note.”

The survey findings and report can be found here >>

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Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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