Should Teachers or Parents Have More Influence Over Education Decisions?

Karlyn Bowman October 12, 2021

A Caucasian mother embraces her child on the school yard in front of a yellow school bus.

In the second and final debate of Virginia’s November 2 gubernatorial race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin sparred over what schools should teach, what books and materials libraries should include, and what parents’ roles should be in what their children learn.

In the wide-ranging and spirited debate, Youngkin criticized McAuliffe, who served as Virginia’s governor between 2014 and 2018, for vetoing a bill that would have let parents remove books they objected to from school libraries and curriculums. After some back and forth, McAuliffe said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Youngkin responded, “You believe school systems should tell children what to do. I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.”

The new American Perspectives Survey from AEI’s Survey Center on American Life sheds some light on what parents and partisans think. In the August national poll, 89 percent of parents said teachers should have a great deal or a fair amount to say about what subjects are taught in public schools and how they are covered. A similar 86 percent gave that response about parents. Democrats and Republicans differed on both questions, but the gap was larger on the role parents should play. Ninety-one percent of Democrats compared to 82 percent of Republicans said teachers should have a substantial say. The gap was almost twice as large on parents’ role: 69 percent of Democrats but 86 percent of Republicans wanted parents to have a great deal or a fair amount of influence over these decisions. Attitudes of partisans were similar on the role that local schools boards and principals should have. Democrats were much more enthusiastic about students’ roles: 71 percent of them wanted students to have a great deal or fair amount to say compared to 55 percent of Republicans. Both parents and partisans were less enthusiastic about a significant role for state legislators and Congress should play.

The partisan division over parents’ role in education is even larger among those without school-age children. Democrats without children are far less likely than Republicans to say parents should have a central role in decision-making (66 percent vs. 86 percent).

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