While public education has always been a hotbed for political debate, disagreements about health and safety protocols, vaccination requirements, and critical race theory have turned the temperature up over the past few years. As we approached the two-year mark on the COVID-19 pandemic, DHM Research touched base with Oregonians about their perceptions of the public education system in the state and some hot-button issues.
Here are some of the key findings:
Overall impressions of schools and the education system
- Oregonians hold clearly positive opinions about public school teachers (66%) and their local school district (56%) but are a bit more lukewarm about unions that represent public school teachers (50%) and the Oregon Department of Education (49%).
Schools and Covid-19
- A clear majority also approve of the job that their local districts have done responding to COVID-19 (54%), a view which has held steady dating back to September 2020 (57%).
- Support outpaces opposition when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine requirements for teachers (65% vs. 29%), students ages 12 and older (60% vs. 35%), and students ages 5–11 (57% vs. 37%).
Critical race theory
- About half of Oregonians say they are familiar with critical race theory (55%). There’s little consensus about whether it is being taught in local public schools (32% Yes, 29% No, 39% Don’t know), whether residents support or oppose teaching it (39% Support, 33% Oppose, 27% Don’t know), and whether disagreements about it are genuine or made-up (42% Genuine, 34% Made-up, 24% Don’t know).
School boards and superintendents
- Oregonians support proposals to prohibit school boards from firing superintendents for following laws or emergency and executive orders (61%) and from mandating superintendents to ignore or violate said guidelines (52%). The first proposal has been taken up for consideration by the Oregon State Senate as Senate Bill 1521.
Throughout these results, there are notable patterns of demographic differences. For instance, Oregonians with higher socioeconomic status and Democrats are consistently more positive about public education in Oregon and more supportive of vaccination requirements, legislation to protect superintendents, and teaching critical race theory in local public schools.