State Legislation

Survey Finds Teacher Shortage Crisis Exacerbated By Push to Ban Classroom Discussions of Race and Gender

Education-equity advocacy nonprofit Stand for Children has released a new national survey of teachers that finds that 3 in 10 teachers are considering leaving the profession at the end of this school year, and more than a third of the 2,000 K–12 educators surveyed cited as a reason new state laws restricting classroom discussions on race, gender, and sexuality.

“Censorship laws being passed by Republican-led legislatures across the country – and which bar teachers from discussing topics of race, gender, and sexuality – threaten to exacerbate the teacher shortage,” Stand for Children said in a news release. Of the teachers surveyed, 37% said that the push for laws that “prevent honest teaching and conversations in their classrooms would make them more likely to leave teaching at the end of this school year.”

“There is a direct connection between states pushing for censorship laws and teachers’ willingness to stay in the teaching profession, and students and families are paying the price,” said Jonah Edelman, executive officer at Stand for Children. “At a time when public officials should be supporting kids and families to help students to catch up academically and recover socially and emotionally, these laws are instead fueling crippling staff shortages, and preventing students from learning a truthful, thorough, fact-based account of U.S history that enables them to learn from the past in order to create a better future.”

The organization noted that 32 states have introduced legislation to ban classroom curricula and conversations on important but challenging topics such as the ongoing effects of racism and inequality in the United States. Thirteen states have already enacted such laws, many of which include stiff punishments for teachers who violate the often-vague guidelines, Stand for Children said.

Some recent examples include:

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rolled out legislation that would allow parents to sue schools that teach “critical race theory.”
  • In Ohio, a bill introduced in the state Legislature teachers accused of discussing “banned ideas'' could have their classes not count toward graduation requirements.
  • In Wisconsin, the proposed legislation would withhold 10% of funding to schools that promote “race or sex stereotyping.”
  • In Texas, after a conservative lawmaker listed 850 books he wanted banned, hundreds of books have already been pulled off the shelves, preventing students from learning from Pulitzer Prize-winning authors like Toni Morrison and historical figures like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

One respondent explained their dismay with such bans: “Laws restricting classroom discussions take away from the students in that classroom,” said the respondent, a high school teacher in Montana. “Schools are not there to make you think one way or another, and laws restricting discussions force students to only think in one way. Students should be able to discuss what they believe. This helps better prepare them for a world in which they will disagree with others and a world in which their voice matters just as much as other persons.”

The Ohio program director for “suburban housewife” advocacy group Red Wine & Blue, Crystal Lett, said she’s concerned that adding restrictions on what teachers can discuss in the classroom will make the ongoing teacher shortage much worse.

“Additional loss of teaching staff will place our education system in full crisis, with harmful consequences for our children, our families, and ourselves as parents,” said Lett, also a parent of three K–12 students. “Our children are very aware of the world around them, and the focus must be on preparing them for success by giving them the skills needed to address inequality and understand complex, tough issues.”

Overwhelmingly, respondents agreed that students need to learn honest, accurate, and truthful history even if those conversations are uncomfortable, with 93% of teachers surveyed saying that students “deserve a thorough and accurate account of American history” and that “it is essential for schools [to teach historical truths] to help children learn to value and respect the humanity of every person.”

The national survey was conducted by SurveyUSA, an independent survey research firm, from September to October 2021. The full results can be viewed on the Stand for Children survey website.

About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].