Education

School Choice and Greater Transparency Can Save Us from Woke Classrooms

Students exit a bus at Venice High School in Los Angeles, Calif., December 2015. (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)
Teachers should post syllabi and class materials online, so parents can make the right choice for their kids.

If you thought the Iowa Democratic caucuses were a disaster, you may not have spent enough time in certain public schools recently.

Iowa’s bungled vote tallies look much better through, say, the lens of the Seattle Public Schools’ 2019 proposed “K-12 math ethnic studies framework.” Rather than emphasizing outdated ideas, such as adding up numbers correctly, it suggests taking class time to ponder: “Who gets to say if an answer is right? . . . What does it mean to do math? How important is it to be Right? What is Right? Says Who?”

Indeed, those candidates who were expecting accurate, impartial tallies seem to have missed the teachings from Seattle that encourage students to ask, “Why/how does data-driven processes prevent liberation?,” as well as other curriculum questions such as, “How can we change mathematics from individualistic to collectivist thinking?”

Such content might sound far-fetched, but it has become far more common in K–12 schools since the National Education Association (NEA) — the country’s largest teachers’ union and the holder of the RedforEd trademark — adopted a resolution last year calling for the mandatory instruction of such ethnic-studies content.

Now, with the publication of the New York Times’ so-called 1619 Project, the implementation of that mandate is underway. Among its other claims, the 1619 Project contends that, while most Americans believe “1776 is the year of our nation’s birth . . . this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong . . .” (emphasis added).

Though the historical merits of 1619’s claims have received bipartisan condemnation by scholars at Yale, Notre Dame, Brown, Princeton, and more, a new investigative report by RealClearPolitics reveals that in mere months, 1619 has been “adopted in more than 3,500 classrooms in all 50 states.”

What is perhaps most significant, however, is RCP’s finding that the 1619 Project “is mostly being used as supplemental, optional classroom teaching material. By and large, school systems are adopting the project by administrative fiat, not through a public textbook review process” (emphasis added).

In other words, kids across the U.S. are learning to reject July 4, 1776, as a day of celebration without any parental input or awareness — and without any formal curriculum review.

However, a new bill, passed last week in Arizona’s Senate Education Committee, proposes a novel solution for those concerned about politicized content landing quietly on students’ desks without parental knowledge. A provision in SB 1357 would require schools to be completely forthright with parents about their instructional materials.

Specifically, the bill’s language requires that each school “shall post on a prominent location on its website a listing of the instructional materials used, by grade and subject matter, in the prior school year on or before August 1 of each year.”

As the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, where I work, pointed out in a recent policy brief outlining this idea, this approach would equip parents with the information they need to discern which schools are teaching academically rigorous, politically neutral content, and which are not. It would then allow parents to factor this into their school enrollment decisions, especially in states with robust school choice.

Our report points out that many K–12 schools and universities have already begun posting easily accessible, detailed lists of instructional materials and class syllabi online, disclosing the specific books, articles, poems, short stories, and historical works used in instruction.

This proposal would require only the listing — not the photocopying — of any materials, avoiding copyright concerns. It would also require minimal additional effort by teachers, who could still incorporate any materials they wish, and who — in Arizona and elsewhere — are already commonly expected to submit lesson plans to principals or curriculum staff documenting their materials.

Most important, this proposal would bypass outdated state protocols that frequently frustrate parents’ ability to know what’s actually being taught, especially before they have already committed their children to a given school. Under this proposal, parents could begin voting with their feet on whether they want a school that celebrates arithmetic fundamentals and 1776 . . . or something else.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. 

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