What New Demands for Parent Involvement Could Mean for Curriculum Providers

Staff Writer

Nearly half of adults think parents should have a great amount of say in what their children learn in school, according to a new poll — a result that could signal an era of increased family involvement in local curriculum decisions that companies will have to navigate.

A new poll by the Washington Post-ABC News found that 81 percent of those surveyed felt parents should have at least some say in what their child’s school teaches.

And 48 percent — made up largely of those supporting Republicans, according to the Washington Post — said they should have “a lot” of say.

When asked how much public schools should teach about the history of racism and its affects on America today — which has emerged as an issue in state and local elections — 70 percent of adults responded favorably, with more than half agreeing it should be taught “a great deal.”

A consultant who work closely with curriculum companies told EdWeek Market Brief that many have invested heavily in recent years in trying to cover issues of race and cultural responsiveness in their materials, and he’s seen most companies maintain that commitment.

The national poll, conducted by telephone Nov. 7-10, asked 1,001 respondents for their opinions on topics ranging from Joe Biden’s handling of the presidency to climate change and education.

The results offer useful insight for education companies about how to weigh parent opinions on curriculum and how district demands may change to satisfy the public.

The interest from parents comes after remote learning during the pandemic forced many parents to become more involved in their child’s education, in an effort to keep their children engaged and on task.

Balancing the interests of parents along with the needs of a school district is nothing new for education companies, said Kevin Gray, president and chief content officer of Westchester Education Services.

Gray, whose company does curriculum-writing and culture responsiveness auditing for ed-tech companies and education publishers, said so far the industry hasn’t seen a huge pivot in its curriculum demands as the result of parent input. And companies generally already have mechanisms in place to receive and consider parent feedback.

Momentum Remains Behind Culturally Responsive Content

Questions about parents’ influence in education have leapt into the the political realm recently. Across the country, parents have disrupted school board meetings, in some cases protesting COVID-era mask mandates, in others objecting to efforts by schools to broach topics of race and racism.

In Virginia, the Republican candidate for governor, Glenn Youngkin, made parents’ rights to shape decisions about curriculum a key part of his platform in pulling off a surprising victory this month over Democrat and former governor Terry McAuliffe.

In particular Youngkin raised the specter of schools introducing elements of “critical race theory” a concept from postsecondary education, into lessons. (Critical race theory is not part of Virginia’s curriculum, and there is no evidence that it has a substantial presence in K-12 schools.)

Given this, Gray said the results related to teaching race are an important takeaway for the education market.

The poll results show there’s widespread support for the movement Gray said he’s seen among companies to have more diversity and culturally responsive content in their curriculum — a trend Gray hasn’t seen lose momentum despite the growing controversy.

“Regardless of what we’re seeing in these school board meetings, an overwhelming majority recognizes we need to deal with racism,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of that reflected in the work we are doing for publishers and ed tech companies.

“Companies are trying to do due diligence to make sure that many sides of the story are being told, finding opportunities for underrepresented narratives to be included.”

Image by Olli Turho/iStock/Getty

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