Last month, the Federalist Society presented a well-received convention panel discussion on woke education, an issue that gained increased attention in light of Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin’s campaign promise to ban Critical Race Theory from Virginia schools. As the panel reflected, education reformers disagree on whether CRT’s discriminatory elements should be banned by legislation, as some states have done, or fought through litigation, as others advocate; meanwhile, some serious people oppose such efforts altogether in light of free speech concerns. Either way, there is widespread agreement that educators must be candid with parents about whether children are being politically indoctrinated into controversial social philosophies. For this reason, the biggest issue in education reform has become transparency.
In some high-profile instances, school leaders have denied that they are using CRT, only to have the truth revealed through public records requests. In Virginia, for example, Loudoun County school officials denied using CRT until Parents Defending Education provided twenty examples to prove them wrong. (Disclosure: I serve on PDE’s governance board.) Similarly, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe denied that CRT was used in Virginia schools. Then it turned out that Fairfax County Public Schools paid “anti-racist” scholar Ibram X. Kendi $20,000 for a one-hour training session and spent another $24,000 on his books. It is therefore not surprising that educational reformers are now urging more transparency. At a minimum, parents and taxpayers deserve to know when controversial approaches are being used to indoctrinate public school children and their teachers. While educators should be commended for bringing attention to bias and bigotry, I have explained before that the new anti-racist programs exacerbate certain forms of discrimination and distract resources away from serious anti-discrimination programs.
Last week, in a formal statement organized by the Heritage Foundation that builds upon the efforts of Chris Rufo, I joined with other educational reformers in urging educators to provide greater transparency:
We therefore call for state legislators to enact policies that families and students desperately need to reject the racial prejudice inherent in Critical Race Theory, maximize transparency around what is taught in K-12 classrooms, and secure education choice.
The statement, which was also joined by experts at such institutions as the Manhattan Institute, Parents Defending Education, the Claremont Institute, Independent Women’s Voice, and The Heritage Foundation, urges policymakers to embrace seven principles that support transparency, affirm civil rights, and empower parents:
- No teacher or student should be compelled to affirm, believe, profess, or adhere to any idea that violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- No course of instruction or unit of study may direct or otherwise compel students to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere to any idea that violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- No school shall contract for teacher professional development with providers who promote racially essentialist doctrines and practices that have been held to violate the Civil Rights Act.
- A private individual may bring a right of action against any public institution engaged in racial discrimination.
- Public school officials should give all members of the public comprehensive access in-person and online to school curricular materials including syllabi, lists of textbooks, and teacher-created assignments and books, worksheets, along with content that educators use for teacher professional development training sessions. Parents should be able to see, at-a-glance online, what their children are being taught. State officials should bolster their sunshine laws to stop school districts from stonewalling parents’ public records requests.
- Public school board elections should be held on-cycle—in the same years and at the same time as the election for the highest office in a given state. When school board elections are held with general elections, school board members more closely reflect the preferences of their constituents.
- Provide every K-12 student and their family with the ability to choose how and where a child learns. Policymakers should empower families with the ability to choose a new public or private school for their child or to customize their child’s education with an education savings account.
My colleague Kimberly Richey and I added one more principle to this list: schools must fully disclose when sexual predators are moved around from school-to-school in order to avoid public awareness of their crimes. Last year, when we headed the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights under Secretary Betsy DeVos, we launched an initiative to address sexual assault in the public schools. In addition to national compliance reviews, we expanded the department’s Civil Rights Data Collection to require disclosure of what educators call “pass-the-trash,” i.e., of incidents where accused predators are quietly moved from one school to another, where they can prey on a new unsuspecting group of children. To our surprise, the Biden administration recently proposed to eliminate these disclosures, allowing districts to cover up this dangerous conduct. In an op-ed appearing today in The Hill, Richey and I explain:
The Biden administration’s proposal to eliminate data collection on “pass the trash” is a dreadful mistake. The proposal perpetuates practices we sought to overturn: concealment and secrecy in … sexual misconduct cases. It is time these incidents are brought to light…. Parents and students deserve to know how their schools are dealing with sexual misconduct. Ensuring that students are protected should be a bipartisan issue.
Here again, parents have a right to know what dangers their children are facing. In some cases, this misconduct is criminally prosecuted, as it should be, but in other cases it is not, because the facts never come to light. Even when the crimes are eventually prosecuted, the perpetrators are often enabled to repeat their offenses before they are ultimately terminated. Public disclosure is necessary if parents are to have confidence that their children are safe in school. This is why transparency has become the rallying cry of education reform.
Note from the Editor: The Federalist Society takes no positions on particular legal and public policy matters. Any expressions of opinion are those of the author. To join the debate, please email us at [email protected].