Policymakers | Intellectual Diversity

Education Bureaucracy Is Oblivious to Public Opinion

CHALKBOARD REVIEW   |  April 16, 2021 by Zachary Rogers

Illinois legislators recently approved a new regulation from the Illinois State Board of Education that signals a radical shift in public education policy. The “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” call upon K-12 teachers to work “to reform [political] institutions whenever and wherever necessary.” The debate over this divisive rule—which in effect politicizes the classroom—was rancorous, but at least the final product is a little better than the initial text that would have required teachers to “encourage progressive viewpoints” as a condition of licensure.

With Americans demonstrating low confidence in public schools, policymakers need to pause and listen carefully to the Illinoisans who believe that taxpayer-supported educators should prepare students for successful careers and informed citizenship rather than advocacy.

A recent survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni of 800 Illinois residents explored what Illinoisans think about meritocracy, equal opportunity, American history, and free speech in public education. The survey results show that Illinois policymakers are out of touch with their constituents. Two key findings highlight this divide; Seventy-eight percent of Republicans and almost seven out of 10 Independents think that teachers should “expose students to a variety of perspectives.” Eighty-three percent of Republicans and 65% of Independents want teacher preparation programs to prioritize “core skills and competencies” rather than “progressive viewpoints.”

Americans have traditionally thought that individuals should be judged based on their merit. Illinois respondents thought so too, with an overwhelming 84% agreeing that “all people should be treated equally based on merit.” Most of those surveyed indicated that meritocracy should also govern college admissions policies. Sixty-three percent agree that acceptance into college should be based on individual achievement, even if it results in less racial diversity on campus. 

At universities across the nation, students, faculty, and administrators routinely self-censor in fear of offending others. Illinoisans disapprove of this trend. Sixty-nine percent agree that freedom of speech and open deliberation are the “foundation of our democracy.” Support for free speech is very high among Republicans (84%) and Independents (73%). Almost 60% of respondents think that speakers should be able to visit campus even if some campus members find their views offensive. Sixty-nine percent think that the University of Illinois should have a balanced faculty of liberals and conservatives. A smaller though not negligible number, 45%, believe that public universities should not receive taxpayer funds if they do not protect free speech.

Respondents are opposed to implementing the major themes of the New York Times’ 1619 Project in public education. When asked which was closer to their own view, 62% chose “Public universities should work to educate citizens in U.S. history and founding principles as the basis for reasoned debate and civil dialogue.” Only a little over a quarter (27%) think that systemic racism and inequities should be addressed by teaching students about “White privilege.”

The public will naturally question the leadership of Illinois legislators if they neglect the opinions of their constituents and are guided by political winds. With Republicans, Independents, and pluralities of Democrats unified on many of these issues, lawmakers need to step back and reconsider whose interests they were elected to serve.

The original source can be found here»


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