Curriculum Ideology Wars and the Post-Pandemic Teacher Shortage

By Daniele Skor

    Curriculum Ideology Wars and the Post-Pandemic Teacher Shortage

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    Daniele Skor
    High School Teacher
    Colorado Springs, CO, US
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    Daniele Skor

    Daniele Skor is a humanities teacher in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and a graduate student at the University of Colorado in Denver. She is passionate about teaching all students critical literacy through student-centered curriculum.

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    This paper examines some literature of curriculum theories, which led the author to investigate the role of teacher autonomy in enacting curriculum. In addition, the author researched the role of curriculum in the post-pandemic teacher shortage. Through this research, the author found that anti- “critical race theory” policy and ideology cause a great deal of stress for educators and impede teachers’ ability to make decisions for their classrooms, which are both contributing factors in the teacher shortage. In other words, opposition to topics of race, sexuality, and other facets of identity in the classroom directly harms the teacher’s ability to teach and, consequently, the student’s ability to learn.


    I wrote this essay in a Curriculum Theory course at the University of Colorado at Denver. It discusses current topics of the teacher shortage and national debates over diversity in curriculum.

    Curriculum Ideology Wars and the Post-Pandemic Teacher Shortage

    “If the tempest of political strife were to be let loose upon our Common Schools, they would be overwhelmed with sudden ruin.” (Horace Mann, 1848). Throughout American history, curriculum has become a battlefield of ideologies (Kliebard, 1995). As Mann’s quote indicates, public schools have steered as clear as possible of overtly partisan agendas since their inception. However, almost nobody is satisfied with our current system, whether they believe it is too progressive or not nearly enough. Notably absent in many discussions surrounding curriculum are those who are most involved with it on a daily basis: students and educators. As a country, we are steadily devaluing the teaching profession by prioritizing opinions of those who lack professional training in education such as politicians and families.

    We are also currently in the midst of a national teacher shortage. As political strife has entered the battlefield of curriculum in recent years, we must work to recenter educator autonomy to sustain the teaching profession and preserve the nonpartisan role our public schools are intended to play in our democracy. The role of curriculum at the center of political controversy impacts teachers’ ability to create effective, student-centered learning experiences and in turn may be a contributing factor in the current teacher shortage. The readings in this course led me to want to better understand the current curriculum “battleground” in America within the framework of curriculum ideology (Kliebard, 1995). Through reading, I began to understand more deeply the importance of curriculum in national debates about education and became interested in researching the role of curriculum in America’s current teacher shortage. Looking at this issue through the lens of Eisner’s (2002) intended, operational and normative curriculum helped me understand the values causing tension between teachers,the education system and the larger public. Schiro’s (2012) four curriculum ideologies provided a framework for analyzing different perspectives on curriculum, how each views the teacher’s role, and how those views have impacted the teacher shortage. I also became interested in investigating the role of race and racism (Baker-Bell et al., 2017) and critical literacy in this discussion, particularly the hotly-contested idea of critical race theory, as it pertains to the teacher shortage. I aimed to understand factors in the teacher shortage using the language of this course and hoped to identify how increased trust in teachers to choose and develop student-centered curriculum could help address the issue and improve education as a whole.

    Method and Materials

    I conducted research into the role of curriculum in the current teacher shortage. My method was to select a variety of accurate sources, to read carefully, to take notes on my readings, and to work towards a synthesis of what the readings were presenting. I began with an article detailing factors causing the shortage which can be distilled to pay and stress (Natanson, 2022). I chose to focus further research into the role of curriculum battles in teacher stress. This led me to understand that the shortage disproportionately affects low-income schools (Cardona, 2021). Opposition to “woke ideology” in schools as well as increased demand for “parental rights” in curriculum have increased teacher stress and disrespect towards teachers (Binkley, 2022). Reports linked stress to attrition (Diliberti, Schwartz, & Grant, 2021) and discussed politics as a limit on teacher discretion (Rogers et al., 2022). And finally, lack of control over curriculum directly contributes to attrition (García & Weiss, 2019).


    A major factor in the current shortage is stress, which can be linked to a lack of respect and autonomy stemming from disagreements over policy restricting or dictating curriculum. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (2021) states, “one in four district leaders and principals are reporting severe staffing shortages” which disproportionately impacts “students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, and often rural communities.” Less qualified teachers work in the schools where great educators are needed most (Balingit, 2022) and “when you start to double classes, teachers don’t have that one-on-one with the students, that personal ability to understand what the student needs” (Natanson, 2022). The shortage is widespread, but does not affect all equally.

    According to Daniel Domenech (as cited in St. George & Strauss, 2021), executive director of The School Superintendents Association, “higher pay would help, but it’s more the environment that teachers and others are working under in schools.” Other reports support this view. From the Rand Corporation, “four in ten voluntary early leavers—including both those who left before and during the pandemic—selected ‘the stress and disappointments of teaching weren’t worth it’ as a reason for leaving. This response was the most frequent choice among the ten reasons we listed” (write the reference here; 2021). Stressful environments in schools are seen as a more prominent factor than llack of adequate salary in making a long-term career in education difficult for many teachers. Schmitt and deCourcy (2022) also detail that “sources of teacher stress include long hours during the school year, large class sizes, juggling second jobs to supplement pay, evaluation processes that depend heavily on standardized testing results, discrimination against teachers of color, lack of control over the curriculum, and an increasingly politicized environment” [italics added]. Richards et al. (2022) emphasized the lack of control, writing that “one way in which the teachers felt devalued was related to their perceived importance in the educational process. For several, this led to feeling demoralized wherein they believed that they did not have choice in the conduct of their work.” Research from the Economic Policy Institute indicates that “more than seven in 10 teachers do not control the textbooks they use and the topics and skills they teach” (García & Weiss, 2019). Evidently, the current shortage is largely due to the stress of working in education, of which there are many causes– not the least being a lack of autonomy.

    Teachers feel that they lack control over their curriculum for a variety of reasons. One of these is state evaluative systems (Richards et al., 2022). One teacher asserted that these systems make it seem “like teachers are not professionals,” while another noted, “no one wants to do anything creative because we are worried about getting dinged by the state” (Richards et al.). These systems can make teachers feel disrespected and limited. Additionally, some teachers feel “‘micromanaged’” by administration (Richards et al.). Other pressures come from outside school. Increasing partisan controversy over curriculum impacts teachers through policy changes and general shifts in attitudes towards educators. Members of the “parents’ rights movement” are specifically “calling for schools to remove certain books dealing with race or sexuality, for example, and an end to history lessons that aren’t ‘patriotic’” (Binkley, 2022). This has contributed to larger debates over whether or not politics have a place in public education. Some school board members oppose the idea of parents as curriculum developers, saying “parental rights does [sic] not mean that you get to cherry-pick what’s taught in schools” (Binkley).

    However, “in the last two years, over a dozen states have prioritized passing laws to restrict what teachers can teach or even say. Those same states have some of the worst teacher vacancy rates in the country” (Walton & Pollock, 2022). And on the school level, “half of all principals [involved in one study] report that parents or other community members sought to limit or challenge teaching and learning about issues of race and racism” (Rubin, 2022). This directly impacts learning as “fewer students are learning to debate issues… contrary to the wishes of the 80 percent of U.S. adults who ‘believe that controversial issues such as immigration, the second amendment, and income inequality should be discussed in high schools’” (Rubin). These policy issues cause confusion and stress for teachers who “can’t figure out what I can or can’t teach under the law” (Amy, 2022). As Richards reminds us, “the uncertainty that accompanies major policy changes can be a source of stress.”

    These policy shifts are accompanied by shifting attitudes towards teachers that impact both educator autonomy and morale. Educators sense that “politicians and parents – and sometimes their own school board members – have little respect for their profession amid an escalating educational culture war” (Natanson, 2022). A Massachusetts principal reported that “hostility towards schools and teachers has drastically increased the challenge to find and retain teachers” (Rogers et al., 2022). Media contributes to this hostility, as “teachers have been collective victims of ‘teacher bashing’ and having their profession collectively ‘dragged through the mud’ by mainstream media, as well as on social media” (Mertler, 2016). One teacher told the crowd at a school board meeting, “if you respected us, you’d listen to us” (Walton & Pollock, 2022). Those who have worked in education for a long time have taken note of this escalation as “Leslie Houston, president of the Fairfax Education Association, said she has never in her career seen so many teachers leaving the job because they feel disrespected, primarily by politicians and some parents” (Natanson). Some argue that these controversies subvert the very “role public schools play in a functioning democracy that encourages participation among all cultural and ethnic groups of citizens” (Danelski, 2022). Political controversy over school curriculum has been shown to increase hostility towards teachers and teacher stress, which is a top factor in the current teacher shortage.


     As I have found, major disagreements about curriculum are contributing to the teacher shortage. We can understand the roots of those disagreements by applying curriculum theory to the ideologies represented on both sides of the conflict, that is, the side of limiting teacher autonomy and the side of promoting teacher autonomy. Two main factors in limiting teacher autonomy are increased evaluations of teachers and movements to limit the teaching of topics of race and sexuality in the classroom. Though the two are connected, I plan to focus on the latter, which I will refer to as the anti-CRT movement

    Both sides of the current curriculum war related to the anti-CRT movement can be understood in the context of Schiro’s four curriculum ideologies. Scholar Academic ideology views teachers as a type of middlemen between K-12 schooling and universities; the job of teachers is to disseminate the knowledge and skills of their disciplines from the university level to their students. Due to the teacher shortage, some states have removed the requirement of a college degree for licensure– such as Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis, a major proponent of anti-CRT ideology, described a college degree as “a magic piece of paper which likely would have cost too much anyway” (Balingit, 2022). The devaluation of a college degree, as seen in the attitude of DeSantis, fails to align with the Scholar Academics’ focus on centering academia in curriculum. However, overall, the anti-CRT ideology aligns more closely with the Social Efficiency model presented by Schiro. Social Efficiency places the least emphasis on the teacher’s autonomy; the teacher’s job is simply to enact the curriculum that other developers have given them without question (Schiro, 2012). Under anti-CRT ideology teachers are held to policies that restrict what they can say in the classroom, with the result that teachers feel like they cannot make “creative” decisions (Richards et al, 2018) regarding what or how they teach. Because of the emphasis the “parent’s rights movement” places on those besides teachers making curriculum decisions, it aligns with the Social Efficiency model. It is also the closest to our current system, under which the majority of teachers do not choose the textbooks, topics, and skills taught in their classes (García & Weiss, 2019). However, as a result of policy introduced by the anti-CRT movement, “fewer students are learning to debate issues” (Amy, 2022). This actually runs counter to Schiro’s Social Efficiency ideology, as it limits the ability of teachers to prepare students to function in our democracy (Rogers et al., 2022). Therefore, while aspects of the anti-CRT movement align with Social Efficiency, others do not. 

    The Learner Centered model, on the other hand, prioritizes teacher autonomy in the context of allowing teachers to create curriculum tailored to their students’ needs and interests (Schiro, 2012). It also suggests that schooling should prioritize “the needs and interests of learners, rather than those of teachers, principals, school subjects, parents, or politicians” (p. 93). This view expressly opposes the anti-CRT movement and its partisan nature, and supports the idea that parental input has its limits (Binkley). Some reports have also noted that the teacher shortage has made it more difficult to implement learner-centered curriculum, with one educational leader noting that, “when you start to double classes, teachers don’t have that one-on-one with the students, that personal ability to understand what the student needs” (Natanson, 2022). So aside from the disconnect between anti-CRT ideology and centering learner’s needs, the ideology indirectly limits the efficacy of  learner centered curriculum by contributing to a teacher shortage that makes it more difficult to provide individual attention to students.

    Social Reconstruction, Schiro’s 4th category of education ideology, does seem to stand at the farthest end of the ideological spectrum from the anti-CRT movement, with its emphasis on enacting societal progress through education (Schiro, 2012). Opponents of anti-CRT legislation call it “classroom censorship, saying that it limits the ability of educators to teach accurate history and the ability of students to receive an accurate education” (Amy, 2022). Further, preventing conversations about race and sexuality leaves no room for discussion of personal and change related to these topics (Rubin, 2022). In this sense, it seems like the anti-CRT movement only leaves room for parts of the Social Efficiency ideology due to the restriction of teacher autonomy. On the other hand, allowing for discussions of race and sexuality is less restrictive and opens space for consideration of learner centered growth and an evolving perspective on social change as a part of democratic society. .

    So what exactly do the different sides in this conflict hope to teach students? Eisner (2002) discusses normative curriculum as defining curriculum in terms of the values it hopes to impose on students. The anti-CRT movement seeks to promote “patriotic” values (Binkley, 2022). Eisner also discusses the difference between explicit, null, and implicit curriculum. The explicit curriculum associated with the anti-CRT movement sees these values as promoting nationalism and patriotism. The null curriculum, what is not taught in schools, includes “race” and “sexuality” and these are the very topics that the anti-CRT movement seeks to limit (Binkley). The implicit curriculum, or what is not directly taught but is implied through the system of schooling, is that of white supremacy (Eisner, p. 97). By maintaining the status quo of schooling and preventing the exploration of the topics of race and sexuality, students learn in an environment that upholds the values of white supremacy. Baker-Bell et al. (2017) write, “by not addressing racial injustice, we risk reproducing racial inequality in our classrooms and preparing our youth to be passive and silent bystanders in the face of it” (p. 148). This draws the connection between null and implicit curriculum in the case of anti-CRT ideology: by leaving race and sexuality in the null, the implicit curriculum becomes one of racial inequality.

    The role of critical literacy is also at stake in this debate. The heart of critical literacy is that “written language is inseparable from its social, cultural, and historical context and is essentially ideological, cultural, and political,” so understanding the ideology, culture, and politics behind a text is essential to a full understanding of the text (Bloome et al, 2019, p. 17). The anti-CRT movement opposes “examination of how societal structures perpetuate white dominance,” which directly impacts the teaching of critical literacy by trying to remove racial ideology and culture from analysis of texts (Amy, 2022). Additionally, the learner’s identity and lived experience are essential to critical literacy (Jones, 2008). Limiting discussions of race and sexuality in the classroom directly restricts many students from discussing their own identity in the classroom, which can actually be harmful to their literacy development (Muhammad et al., 2021). Limiting discussions of certain ideologies in the classroom directly limits the ability to teach critical literacy. Thus, in an effort to not impose values on students, the anti-CRT movement imposes values that actually harm students’ abilities to learn how to recognize ideology in various sources, whether progressive or conservative. Reports have shown that public schools face difficulty in teaching students “to identify and use high quality information” due to restrictions on using partisan media in the classroom (Rogers et al., 2022). This does not prepare students well to participate in democracy or to develop their own views on crucial issues  (Rogers et al.). Therefore, taking topics such as race and sexuality out of the classroom limits students’ ability to analyze texts and teachers’ ability to prepare them for informed citizenship.

    To sum up this analysis, while the anti-CRT movement imperfectly aligns with Social Efficiency ideology, the core values guiding it separate the movement from the other three curriculum ideologies (as defined by Schiro, 2012). It seeks to teach a normative curriculum of patriotism and white supremacy by explicitly teaching a whitewashed version of history and removing discussion of race and racial inequality in the classroom. And finally, the anti-CRT movement limits the ability of schools to teach critical literacy, an essential skill in our democracy.


    It is essential that teachers have a level of autonomy in their classrooms. No matter the curriculum, as Eisner (2002) writes, “the teacher’s comprehension of the materials, the teacher’s commitment to the program, and the teacher’s sensitivity and support… is extremely important” (p. 44). Teacher autonomy contributes to the effectiveness of curriculum by allowing educators to tailor teaching to their students’ needs. Without autonomy, teachers cannot center our students’ identities in the classroom to teach necessary skills such as critical literacy. This debate is especially important in the present moment, as a lack of autonomy is a major factor in teachers leaving the profession. The resulting teacher shortage has a profound impact on students’ learning, especially students living in high-poverty areas. Movements opposing the teaching of topics such as race and sexuality harm teacher autonomy, thus contributing to the teacher shortage and implementation of learner-centered curriculum. To increase teacher autonomy, trust and respect must be restored in educators, as the professionals they are, to make decisions and take actions that will best support their students. Parents and policymakers must take the importance of teacher autonomy in implementing curriculum and improving teacher job satisfaction, into consideration when evaluating “anti-CRT” policies– for the sake of the vital role education plays in our democracy.


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    To cite this work, please use the following reference:

    Skor, D. (2023, May 23). Curriculum Ideology Wars and the Post-Pandemic Teacher Shortage. Social Publishers Foundation.

    Copyrighted by Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

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