Teachers' Responses to Curriculum Restrictions

RAND policy researcher Ashley Woo presents findings from a study that examined teachers' responses to limitations on race- and gender-related topics in the classroom.


Ashley Woo, Policy Researcher, RAND Corporation

For this particular report, we investigated how teachers’ decisionmaking in the classroom, like their choice of curriculum materials or their instructional practices, were influenced by limitations enacted on how they can address certain topics in the classroom related to race and gender. Teachers responses to these limitations on their classroom instruction really spanned a wide range. There were some teachers who did indeed feel that they were more hesitant or more fearful to address some of these topics in their instruction, and as a result, they did avoid some of these topics, especially because they were cautious about the potential backlash from parents and community members, or maybe they also heard directives from their school leaders or district leaders to avoid these topics.

And then in the middle, we also have some teachers who are kind of trying to find some different workarounds to these limitations. So, some of these teachers would try to focus more on student-centered discourse where they would allow students to talk about these issues, but they themselves would try to remain extremely neutral and just act as a facilitator of discussion. And then on the other side of the spectrum, we also have teachers who were resistant to these limitations, and they said that because these limitations were in place, they felt like it was even more important for them to discuss issues related to race and gender with their students.

I think the study really highlights the complexity of the environment that teachers are working in now. They're experiencing directives and pressures from so many different sources, whether it be their state leaders, their district leaders, their school leaders, parents or community members, and they're also experiencing limitations around quite a wide span of topics, not just things related to race and gender, but also topics related to social studies and history and current events and science, and it’s also impacting their instruction in all of these different pathways.

It’s influencing the kinds of curriculum materials that they're able to use, the topics they're able to bring into discussion into the classroom, and it's also changing even the words in their phrasing that they're using in the classroom, and altogether, what I think that really highlights is this need for education leaders at all levels to really support teachers in having conversations with their students that allows students to have an expansive view of the world, but also do it in a way that is truly beneficial to them, both academically and socially, and making sure that teachers are well equipped to have high quality conversations and instruction around those topics.

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