Academic excellence trumps equity in new Thinking Minnesota poll

According to the latest Thinking Minnesota poll, an overwhelming plurality (41%) of Minnesotans chose academic excellence when asked about their top priority for local school leadership. The next closest answers were “supporting teachers” at 17% and “student mental health” at 13%. No other answer received more than 9%.

“Minnesotans desperately want our schools to focus on academic excellence, not chasing the latest fads like CRT or equity and inclusion,” said John Hinderaker, President of Center of the American Experiment. “School board members and superintendents need to listen more to the customers of public education: parents and taxpayers.”

The poll was conducted by Meeting Street Insights, a nationally recognized polling operation based in Charleston, South Carolina. Using a mix of cell phones and landline phones, the company interviewed 500 registered voters across Minnesota from May 10-12, 2022. The margin of error is +-4.38 percent.

After almost two years of school shutdowns, distance learning and isolation of our youngest learners, Minnesotans are worried about the state of education. The number of respondents who gave public schools an A or B dropped ten percent since March 2020 and the those who gave schools a D or F almost doubled. While Minnesotans still give their local schools higher marks than the state, the number giving local schools an A or B also dropped ten percent since 2020.

“It’s very telling that support for local schools dropped so dramatically in such a short time,” added Hinderaker “There is no stronger indictment of shutdown policies than Minnesota parents losing faith in their local public schools.”

According to the poll, the lost faith in schools is rooted in respondents’ views of how children came out on the other end of the pandemic. Seventy-nine percent of Minnesotans and 87% of parents believe that school closures in Minnesota had a negative effect on children. Seventy-four percent of respondents and 76% of parents are worried that children have fallen behind because of COVID-19 education policies. And 76% of Minnesotans and 80% of parents are worried about the mental health of children as a result of COVID-19 education policies.

Gov. Walz shut down schools at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 and set up a complicated (and impossible to meet) metric for schools to open in the Fall of 2020. Most Minnesota public schools did not reopen until the Spring of 2021, even though COVID-19 posed very little risk to school-aged children.

Minnesotans are also worried about the safety of teachers and students with 47% saying they are “worried about the safety of Minnesota public schools.”

When it comes to listening to parents, the overwhelming majority (93%) believe school board meetings should be open for public comment.  Many school boards in Minnesota have joined a disturbing trend limiting public comment from parents and taxpayers at their school board meetings. Out-of-touch school boards and superintendents frequently remind the public there is no legal obligation for board meetings to include a public forum option, but polling shows the people want to be heard.

One issue driving the need for public comment at school board meetings the last few years is Critical Race Theory (CRT). Awareness of CRT increased from 58% in September 2021 to 75% in the current Thinking Minnesota poll. That awareness is the likely result of American Experiment’s 22-city tour exposing the pervasiveness of CRT in Minnesota schools, especially in the draft social studies standards currently under review.

As was the case last year, the more people know about CRT, the more they oppose it. A plurality of respondents (38%) now opposes teaching Critical Race Theory in public schools, up from 34% last year. The issue has crystallized along partisan lines with only 5% of Republicans supporting it and only 7% of Democrats in opposition.

Thinking Minnesota respondents chose parents over teachers 53% to 44% when asked who should have the biggest voice about what’s taught in the classroom. Once again, this issue broke down along party identification. Democrats were much more likely to choose teachers over parents (73%-25%) while Republicans chose parents over teachers (85%-14%). The issue of who’s in control of education played a central role in the 2021 Virginia governor’s race. Many believe Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s statement that “parents shouldn’t be telling schools what they should teach” cost him the election to Republican Glenn Youngkin.

“The heart and soul of our education system is up for grabs in this fall’s election, from governor all the way down to school board,” said Hinderaker. “Minnesotans are telling us that candidates who listen and respond to parents will be rewarded in November.”