COLUMBUS, OH (WCMH) – An overwhelming majority of Ohio’s parents trust the state’s K-12 teachers to set their children up for success.

A statewide survey of nearly 1,400 parents of school students in Ohio revealed on Monday that “whole child” approaches to education – like social-emotional skills, free meal services, and mental health and housing support – are highly revered by parents.

Conducted over a three-week period in May by the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio and Baldwin Wallace University’ Community Research Institute, the survey found that 90% of parents see teachers as role models for their kids and even more, 93%, trust teachers to deliver age-appropriate instruction, including topics about race and gender identity.

“We’ve really seen a lot of divisiveness around a lot of these ‘whole child’ approaches – which includes social-emotional learning and ensuring children are supported and challenged and engaged in their learning – so we really just wanted to understand, ‘Is this representative of what parents want for their children?’” Alison Paxson, communications and policy associate at the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio, said.

Most of the parents surveyed, 78%, send their children to public schools. Another 10% enrolled their children in private schools, 4% in charter/community schools, and the remaining 6% reported homeschooling their children.

The sample included slightly more Republican parents, 34%, than the 30% who identified as Democrats. The remaining 30% reported being independent voters.

The overwhelming majority of respondents, 93%, said they trust their child’s teacher to deliver curriculum in an age-appropriate manner. And more often than not, Paxson said, parents proffered their support for teachers discussing topics like race, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the classroom.

  • Statement: I trust my child’s teacher to: Teach my child age-appropriate content.
    • 93% agreed; 5.8% disagreed; 1.2% haven’t thought about this
  • Statement: Schools should use evidence-based curriculum and instruction to educate students.
    • 86.9% agreed; 6.8% disagreed; 6.3% haven’t thought about this
  • Statement: Schools should use curriculum and instructional materials relevant to the life experiences, cultures, languages of their students.
    • 84.9% agreed; 9.8% disagreed; 5.3% haven’t thought about this
  • Statement: Schools should help my child(ren) learn the following skills before they graduate from high school: How to examine prejudices and biases.
    • 85.4% agreed; 9.6% disagreed; 5% haven’t thought about this

Along with the 85% of parents who want teachers to help students examine prejudices and biases, Paxson said the widespread support for social issues in school curriculum conflicts with Ohio lawmakers’ attempts to ban the instruction of so-called “divisive concepts,” like critical race theory and LGBTQ+ issues, in certain grade levels.

“Ohio parents of children in K-12 schools don’t see these so-called divisive concepts as all that divisive,” Paxson said. “I think this should be a wake-up call to Ohio lawmakers who are pushing legislation like House Bill 616 and House Bill 327. This doesn’t appear from the data to be what parents want.”

Despite support for curriculum that includes social and cultural issues, Honesty for Ohio Education founder Cynthia Peeples said extremist state lawmakers have “manufactured a crisis” to score political points – and can use the state’s gerrymandered, GOP-leaning districts to circumvent public opinion.

“It’s part of a larger national political agenda to disrupt and dismantle public education as we know it,” Peeples said.

Of the parents surveyed, a large majority found meals provided at school a benefit to their families and even more agreed that those meals should be provided at no cost — regardless of the student’s income level.

  • Statement: School meals are helpful to my family.
    • 81.8% agreed; 11.7% disagreed; 6.4% haven’t thought about this
  • Statement: Schools should provide school meals at no cost to all students, regardless of the student’s ability to pay.
    • 87.4% agreed; 10.2% disagreed; 2.4% haven’t thought about this

The inclusion of questions about school nutrition, Paxson said, sought to determine whether the adoption of free meals at all public schools during the coronavirus pandemic was popular among Ohio children, 500,000 of whom live below the poverty line.

“We’re really trying to advocate for that, especially as we’re back to school now and parents could be using those funds toward other needs, you know, with the continued impacts of the pandemic,” she said.

While most parents perceived mental health services as favorable — and agreed that schools should boost mental health infrastructure — Paxson said many parents did not understand the term “social-emotional learning.”

  • Statement: How well do you understand what is meant by the term “social-emotional learning”?
    • Extremely Well (19.8%), Quite Well (21.8%), Somewhat Well (27.2%), Not At All (25.9%), Haven’t Given This Much Thought (5.4%)
  • Statement: How much do you support or oppose schools teaching your child(ren) social-emotional learning skills?
    • Support (68.4%), Oppose (11.1%), Haven’t Given This Much Thought (20.5%)
  • Statement: My child’s school needs more funding to provide access to mental health services.
    • Agree (71.4%), Disagree (15.8%), Haven’t Thought About This (12.8%)
  • Statement: My child’s school needs more service providers available on-site to provide mental health services.
    • Agree (73.2%), Disagree (15.1%), Haven’t Thought About This (11.7%)

According to the standards used by the Ohio Department of Education, social-emotional learning applies to skills like self- and social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision making, and self-management.

“From my view, this means we have to do more really just to raise awareness of the work happening every day and to be explicit about our meaning when we use words, especially when they’re educational jargon,” Paxson said.

Overall, Paxson said it was refreshing that parents largely remain united in what they envision for their child’s future.

“These survey results give us hope that there is more unity and common ground among us than we might realize and that this means schools and families are aligned on the importance of continuing to work together to strengthen, not counter, the supports children rely on both at home and in school,” she said.