Most teachers report limitations on race- or gender-related topics negatively affect students

In April 2021, Idaho became the first state to pass a law restricting how teachers can talk about race- or gender-related issues in public schools. One year later, a total of 18 states enacted similar policies through state legislatures, state boards of education, state attorneys general and executive orders, according to a March report from RAND.

The Diverging State of Teaching and Learning Two Years into Classroom Limitations on Race or Gender: Findings from the 2023 American Instructional Resources Survey uses nationally representative survey data from more than 8,000 K-12 public school teachers across the United States in spring 2023 to 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.

Researchers noted that in the year since spring 2022, the nature of states’ restrictions had begun to shift from a focus on race and “divisive concepts” to restrictions on LGBTQ issues and information.

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 — the same percentage as identified by the spring 2022 survey.

  • In states that have enacted restrictions, particularly in Florida and Arkansas, the share of teachers who perceived that imposed limitations influenced their instruction grew between spring 2022 and spring 2023.
  • As of spring 2023, only 3 percent of teachers said that limitations on race- or gender-related topics positively impact student learning. Teachers were about 10 times more likely to say that such limitations negatively impact student learning; however, 50 percent of respondents did not provide an answer to the prompt.
  • 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.

Researchers concluded that the findings suggest “that limitations increasingly have different levels of influence in different places. For example, the percentage of teachers in Florida who reported that limitations influenced their instruction grew by 22 percentage points between 2022 and 2023, from 33 percent to 55 percent. By spring 2023, the share of teachers who reported that limitations influenced their instruction (55 percent) was nearly 40 percentage points higher in Florida than in the states that had the smallest shares of teachers reporting that limitations influenced their instruction, such as California, Massachusetts and New York.”