Cover: The Diverging State of Teaching and Learning Two Years into Classroom Limitations on Race or Gender

The Diverging State of Teaching and Learning Two Years into Classroom Limitations on Race or Gender

Findings from the 2023 American Instructional Resources Survey

Published Mar 12, 2024

by Ashley Woo, Melissa Kay Diliberti, Sabrina Lee, Brian Kim, Jing Zhi Lim, Rebecca L. Wolfe

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Research Questions

  1. How have teachers' awareness of state restrictions on teaching about race or gender and their perceptions about the influence of limitations on their instruction changed since spring 2022?
  2. How do teachers characterize the impacts of limitations on race- or gender-related topics on student learning?
  3. How do teachers' awareness of state restrictions and perceptions about the influence of limitations on their instruction and on student learning vary by state policy context and local political climate?

In April 2021, Idaho became the first state to pass a policy restricting teachers' discussion of race- or gender-related topics. Over the next two years, 17 more states followed suit and passed similar restrictions through state legislatures, state boards of education, state attorneys general, and executive orders.

Using nationally representative survey data from more than 8,000 kindergarten through grade 12 public school teachers across the United States in spring 2023, the authors take stock of how classroom limitations on addressing race- or gender-related topics are influencing teachers' instruction and students' learning two years after the first state enacted such a restriction. The authors examine how teachers' awareness of state restrictions and their perceptions of the influence of limitations on their instruction have shifted since spring 2022. Drawing on open-ended survey responses from thousands of teachers, the authors further examine teachers' reports of how limitations are impacting student learning. The authors explore how teachers' awareness and reports of the influence of limitations on their instruction and student learning vary by teachers' state policy context and local political climate.

Key Findings

  • In spring 2023, about one-quarter of teachers nationally reported that limitations on race- or gender-related topics influenced their curriculum choices or instructional practices—a share of teachers that has persisted since spring 2022.
  • In states that have enacted restrictions, particularly in Florida and Arkansas, the share of teachers who perceived that limitations influenced their instruction grew between spring 2022 and spring 2023.
  • Regardless of whether their state had enacted restrictions, the share of teachers who perceived that limitations influenced their instruction grew the most among teachers in conservative-leaning counties.
  • As of spring 2023, 3 percent of teachers said that limitations on race- or gender-related topics positively impact student learning. Teachers were about ten times more likely to say that such limitations negatively impact student learning.
  • Teachers who opposed limitations voiced concerns that these limitations constrain students' learning opportunities, diminish students' sense of belonging and capacity for empathy, and could lead to long-term consequences for students' futures and the future of the education system, country, and democracy.
  • The few teachers who supported limitations believed that race or gender are topics more appropriate for discussing at home than at school. They noted that emphasizing race or gender in the classroom is developmentally inappropriate for young students, creates division and confusion among students, and shifts the focus away from academic learning.

Research conducted by

This research was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Walton Family Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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