Division Politics, NC Education Politics

In its most recent sweeping attempt to describe American political coalitions, the Pew Research Center begins with a simple and straightforward observation: “Partisan polarization remains the dominant, seemingly unalterable condition of American politics. Republicans and Democrats agree on very little — and when they do, it’s often in the shared belief that they have little in common.”

What does this reality mean for North Carolina, a Southern state that has increasingly aligned itself with national economic, cultural, and political trends over the past quarter century? What, in particular, does the politics of division mean for public education?

While a contagious virus spreads from person to person regardless of party affiliation, the infuriating persistence of the pandemic has not healed or reduced acute political divisions. Indeed, important practical questions – such as under what conditions should schools open, or provide online instruction, or require students, staff and teachers to wear masks – have reignited the intermittent policy of “choice parental”.

Two diaries

Two divergent educational agendas have faced state and local authorities in North Carolina during the time of the coronavirus, even as educators bravely faced the daily challenges of teaching, transporting and feeding students. Neither side seems satisfied with the desired results, and these programs are expected to continue until 2022.

On the one hand, those who advocated reopening schools sooner than administrators and teachers felt safe. It also includes voices opposing a deeper treatment of the nation’s racial history and opposing LGBTQ-themed books in libraries. The Republican majority in the legislature expanded public financial aid for students to attend private schools.

On the other hand, an intensified agenda resulted from the judge’s decision in the long term Leandro case and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s 2021-23 budget proposal. The comprehensive recovery plan, as it is called, consists of a set of classic measures based on policy research: early childhood education, recruitment and training of high-quality teachers and principals, professional level remuneration, evaluation and accountability, a focus on poverty and underperforming schools, and links to education and workforce training beyond secondary school.

Last year, the governor vetoed a measure aimed at thwarting the teaching of racial history in a way that would make some students uncomfortable. The legislature passed a two-year budget that fell far short of the governor’s proposed funding for the recovery plan.

Some recent polls, as well as Pew Research’s analysis of coalitions, provide insight into the terrain of public opinion on which education debates are taking place. Online news site Axios and education site The 74 reported on a Harris Poll, conducted earlier this month, finding that most American adults and parents remain nervous about teaching in the classroom as the coronavirus has risen again.

“More than half of Americans say protecting the health and safety of teachers and students by switching to remote learning is more important to avoid exposure to COVID than keeping schools open for the week. in-person learning,” Axios reported. The 74 added detail that “62% of parents of school-aged children think remote learning should make a comeback to prevent the spread of COVID.”

As with so many public issues these days, the main conclusion is not as relevant as the gap between Democrats and Republicans. “The differences in how Americans responded to the poll aligned squarely with party: Only 37% of Republican respondents supported remote learning, compared to 70% of Democrats,” The 74 reported.

Intra-party divisions

From time to time since 1987, the Pew Center has produced what it calls a “political typology” to point out that the Democratic and Republican parties not only differ starkly from each other, but also have significant intra-political divisions. -gone. The center characterizes each party as a coalition of four categories of voters.

Moving to its rightmost segment, the Republican coalition consists of an “ambivalent right…populist right…committed conservatives…faith and flag conservatives.” Moving to the left, the Democratic coalition is described as “Outsider Left…Democratic Mainstays…Establishment Liberals…Progressive Left”.

“The data suggests,” the Pew researchers say, “that by advancing legislation they say would prevent teachers from ‘indoctrinating’ students about racial reckoning, Republican lawmakers are aligning themselves with the attitudes of their party’s heavily white coalition and strengthen them. By opposing the legislation, Democrats reflect and give voice to their more multi-ethnic coalition.

Polarization. Fractured coalitions. Divergent agendas. A complex governance structure. A weary and frustrated public after two years of dealing with a virus. It’s a difficult political landscape for education leadership in North Carolina, a state that’s also yearning for signs of hope.

Ferrel Guillory

Ferrel Guillory is Director of the Public Life Program and Professor of Practice at UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and Vice President of EducationNC.

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