Sandefur: Less politics, more transparency and choice equals better education

Posted 6/28/21

Rather than focusing on the best education for each individual child, kids are learning that race is the most important part of their identity, determining whether they can succeed or fail.

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Sandefur: Less politics, more transparency and choice equals better education


On the latest episode of the Epoch Times’ “California Insider” program, I talk about how a growing number of schools in California (and nationwide) are adopting politically charged curriculum over academically based instruction.

Rather than focusing on the best education for each individual child, kids are learning that race is the most important part of their identity, determining whether they can succeed or fail.

For example, a recently proposed “antiracist” math curriculum told California teachers to “adapt homework policies to fit the needs of students of color” and “challenge the ways that math is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist, racist views.”

And this isn’t just happening in California: In the Goldwater Institute’s home state of Arizona, a state equity toolkit for educators denounced “racial neutrality in schools” as a “tool of whiteness.” As I tell “California Insider,” we’re failing our kids when we tell them they must be pushed into groups — and that their success or failure depends on those groups — instead of being free to pursue any path they wish.

These decisions aren’t being made by parents.

They’re being made by unions — powerful special interests who routinely put politics before kids. Last year, the United Teachers Los Angeles called upon schools to remain closed unless a number of demands — demands that had nothing to do with improving kids’ education — were met, including shutting down charter schools, defunding the police, increasing taxes, and implementing Medicare for All.

In 2019, the Representative Assembly of the National Education Association voted against “making student learning the priority of the association” but in favor of 72 politically charged resolutions on issues like foreign policy, race reparations, and abortion.

To make matters worse, many parents don’t even know what their kids are being taught in school.

Although several states’ laws give parents the right to review content, there’s often no practical way to access that content. Usually, parents must enroll their children first before they’re told what the school is teaching, which makes it impossible for parents to make meaningful choices about their kids’ education. As I explain, what we have is “a very opaque system where parents are just kept in the dark about what their kids are being taught.”

And some school boards have actually threatened parents for asking what content is being used in their kids’ classroom. In Arizona, a group of concerned parents and grandparents asked their school district for documents about what their kids were learning in school, how their kids were performing, and discussions at public school district meetings.

Officials not only refused to turn over the information, but they sued the parents for being a “nuisance” and sought to limit the parents’ ability to request information in the future. The Goldwater Institute represented those parents in court, arguing that they have a legal right to request public records and information about their kids’ education, and school districts have a legal duty to respond.

Officials can’t abuse the legal system to intimidate parents and keep them out of the loop. Both the trial court and court of appeals ruled in favor of the parents. But parents shouldn’t need to lawyer up to get basic information about what their children are learning.

Kids’ educational opportunities shouldn’t be affected by their race or their zip code. Instead, parents should be empowered to choose a school that best suits the unique needs of each individual child. An important first step is adopting academic transparency reforms, which would require public schools to make a list of their curricula available online to parents, so parents can have a better understanding of what their children are learning and be able to make more informed decisions about their kids’ education.

Enacting transparency reforms has the power to transform education for the better, I say, because the more knowledge parents have about what’s being taught in classrooms, “the less of a stranglehold that the unions will have over the system and the more that teachers and parents and kids are going to be able to thrive.”

Christina Sandefur is the Executive Vice President at the Goldwater Institute.