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Education Takes a Back Seat in the 2022 Midterms

Education Policy Brief #57 | By: Steve Piazza | October 31, 2022

Header photo taken from: The Associated Press Photo / Jeff Amy

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Critical Race Theory (CRT) is among the more notable hotbed and vitriolic subject matters alongside curbing student debt at the forefront of education concerns in today's politics. However, the concern and call for improving education in teaching academia and administering the curricula for it is not a defining platform for the upcoming midterm elections.

Photo taken from: Reuters / Evelyn Hockstein

Policy Summary

Most polls show that 2022 midterm election voters seem to have prioritized the economy over all other issues. Not surprisingly, since it often holds voter interest more than crime, foreign affairs, health, and the environment.

Education finds itself at the bottom of most recent surveys, if it’s visible at all. When it is, specific hotbed issues like student debt relief or parental rights are more likely to be reflected as a concern for voters than curricular overhauls, improving school performance, and sadly, preventing school shootings. 

Subsequently, political candidate discussions on children learning and safety seem to be conspicuously absent in mainstream congressional contests.

It’s not totally omitted, though. Across the country there are seven state superintendent races, and 51 pertaining to state boards of education. Yet, these races, especially in Arizona, Florida, and South Carolina, are more about cultural ideologies than policy on learning and safety.

The same is true where amendments and referenda are on the ballot. Voters are deciding on issues ranging from funding initiatives to legislative oversight of the state’s board of education. But infrastructure and protocol matters, though important, have taken precedence and become a substitute for progress in student achievement.

Policy Analysis

Education is something that directly affects all American citizens, not just parents and children. Whether somebody is a product of a public, private, or home school, everybody has a stake because a democratic society depends on an educated populace.

So why is it that debate over teaching and learning in public schools seems neglected during campaigns, and especially congressional races?

To be sure, it’s a risky undertaking for politicians to take on educational issues. Just think of what happened to Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia after his remarks that alienated parents.

Waning public sentiment about education can also be a factor. An October 2, 2022 Morning Consult poll shows voters declaring education as “very important” only 50% of the time. The economy (80%) and crime (61%) were the top two choices while education was fifth. In a similar poll by Monmouth University, education barely makes it into the top 10, and that has to do with student loan debt specifically. Even then it rated “extremely or very important” only 31% of the time.

All this despite the concerns of time missed during Covid and recent results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or the nation’s report card. The first since the pandemic started, it shows that eighth grade students showed a proficiency in math of 26%, down 8% from 2019. Fourth grade scores were down 5%. Scores for reading were also down, though that’s part of a trend prior to 2020.

Some say that too many people just don’t understand educational issues, let alone the political process. Many schools and organizations have already introduced civics initiatives to better educate future voters, but it takes time to increase substantive viewpoints and involvement beyond voting.

Others say politicians and parents have no place in the discussions, that practitioners should decide curricular matters. That debate has been around for decades and is one that needs to be resolved with all stakeholders in mind.

Yet one more reason education doesn’t take center stage could be a result of long term-political strategies.


“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Those 10 words were widely seen as a blunderous statement that cost Terry McAuliffe's chances of winning the Virginia gubernatorial race last year. Since the 2020 election, education (ranked 5th out of 16 in most important political issues) has dropped down in the minds of the public conscience in favor of economics and healthcare concerns.

Photo taken from: The Hill / Julia Nikhinson

 

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For over sixty years, the Democrats have seen themselves as the party of education. They do have a decorated history of passing significant public school education initiatives at the federal level.

But while Democrats have been persistently touting their support for education for some time, some believe many conservatives never got over the 1954 United States Supreme Court decision requiring desegregation, and the Republican Party and its wealthy benefactors have been quietly waging a cultural war against schools ever since.

By 1988, the Republicans had had enough and the quiet frustration manifested itself into a clamorous push for vouchers and school choice. More recently, dubious Critical Race Theory (CRT) fears and inflated parental rights measures have contributed to the noise. In fact, data from Pew Research shows more than twice as many Republicans believe public schools are having a negative impact on the country.

It’s not a stretch to say that too many voters in general elections are in the habit of voting for parties rather than issues and assume that the party leaders will then make the right decisions. But decisions based on populist notions do not teach children how to read or do math.

Both parties may feel they will win the strategy battle outside the classroom, but what actually happens inside still needs to be seriously addressed.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

To find out more about who and what’s on the ballot this year, visit these sites:

If you’re interested, in learning more about curricula by state, you can use a tool designed by Education World to perform a search:

These are links to resources on educating students about the election process:

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