POLL: Public School Parents Want SEL in Schools, Divisive Parents Out

Mar 23, 2023 10:00:00 AM


New polling released today by the National Parents Union (NPU)  shows substantial majorities of public school parents want an end to parent-led censorship in schools and a stop to violent threats against school board members. They also want schools to teach their children to be kind, compassionate, and collaborative.

The data was gathered by polling firm Echelon Insights, which conducted an online survey of 1,030 parents of public school students in grades K-12. The survey was fielded March 19-20, 2023. 

More than 80% of public school parents surveyed want their children’s schools to teach about kindness, empathy and collaboration. This may seem obvious, but one of the leading strategies to do this, known as social-emotional learning, has come under attack. And the attack comes from the same forces that seek to ban books in schools and prevent the accurate teaching of history.

The survey comes less than a month after Republicans introduced H.R. 5, The Parents Bill of Rights Act.  The bill would continue to fuel divisive parental challenges to established curriculum and books in schools. 

In response, NPU worked with Democratic legislators to file their own resolution. It calls on the federal government to protect the civil rights of students and families and develop supportive, safe and inclusive schools. It also calls on schools to build real partnerships with parents, not simply informing them, but including them as advisors and even decision makers.  

Public school parents are supportive of the right to free expression.


Parents Call for Civility in School

According to the new survey, parents want their children and the adults they are connected to in their school communities to practice kindness and collaboration, even in the face of greater political polarization in schools.

When asked whether parents should be allowed to say whatever they want in a school board meeting, including threats of harm or violence against board members, three-quarters of parents surveyed said that such threats were unacceptable. Last year the news agency Reuters documented 220 such incidents in a sampling of districts across the country.

At the same time, parents were supportive of the right to free expression, saying that parents should be able to express their objections to the school board in a public forum. They just don’t want school board meetings to turn into the Salem Witch Trials.

Parents were also were asked whether a parent who objects to school curriculum or reading materials should be able to prevent all students from accessing the materials. Only 18% of respondents supported that idea. Instead, a clear majority of parents (58%) said that a parent opposed to particular information in schools  should be able to opt their  own child out of the curriculum or reading assignment, but not prevent others from accessing it.

In addition to these responses, 90% of parents surveyed agreed that “students should be protected from any form of discrimination at school.”

Dueling Visions of Parents’ Rights

Though H.R. 5 has been fast-tracked in the House of Representatives, where Republicans are in charge, it’s unlikely to gain traction in the Democratically-controlled Senate. And the NPU-backed proposal is merely a federal resolution, which carries little weight in the day-to-day practices of schools.  

The proposals are more significant for the visions of parental rights they outline than for their chances of making policy change. 

If this week’s parent polling is any indication, parents want more than the right to information–they want a seat at the table. And they want that seat at a table free from harassment and violent threats.

Photos courtesy  Antenna on Unsplash;  The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Maureen Kelleher

Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Director at Future Ed. She was formerly Editorial Partner at Ed Post and is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to magazine covering Chicago’s public schools. There, her reporting won awards from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the International Reading Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

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