The fortunes for the candidates for governor of Virginia were reversed when incumbent Terry McAuliffe insulted parents disturbed by what their children are being taught in the state’s public schools.
Governor-elect Glen Youngkin, a Republican, offered a stark contrast with, a Democrat, on education. Youngkin spoke out for school choice, opposed the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public K-12 schools, and supported parental involvement in curriculum decisions.
McAuliffe, by contrast, crashed in the polls once he told parents to stay out of education and let the state raise their children.
Parents across the country have been questioning school boards about curriculum and the curriculum selection process throughout the year.
Our research indicates there is no clear, single path for curriculum development and approval in states across the country. As a result, lawmakers, taxpayers, and parents have little assurance children are being taught useful knowledge and skills. That is the underlying cause behind the angry protests across the nation as parents confront local school boards to protest the clandestine imposition of curricula on race, sex, and political matters that directly oppose what the public wants.
The public began to become aware of these curriculum choices beginning in 2020 when schools across the nation were locked down in response to Covid-19 and parents began to see classroom exchanges and content as their children attended school remotely through computer conferencing programs. The news spread rapidly, and parents descended on school board meetings to demand accountability and reform. The Biden administration responded by threatening to investigate parent protesters as domestic terrorists.
These protests and the popularity of the curriculum-items exchange forum Teachers pay Teachers (TpT) support the observation that most states suffer from lax enforcement of academic standards. With states neglecting to monitor them, teachers search for materials in a forum that is accessible and affordable for them, such as TpT.
Rebecca Friedrichs, a former teacher and the founder of the education reform organization For Kids and Country, says the nation’s founders had a specific plan for education, in which all children in American schools were to be taught within a classical liberal arts curriculum.
“They [the nation’s founders] told us that the only way to keep a true republic is by educating moral people,” Friedrichs said. “Schools were not told how to teach, but all teaching was based on these ideas. To have a free republic, you need to teach virtue.”
Education policy under the nation’s constitution is left to the states. Each state has its own process for developing, accepting, and reviewing curriculum.
In the state of California, for example, the State Board of Education determines standards for all children. The current accepted standard for California is Common Core, a controversial set of standards many other states use. Common Core was developed by a national coalition of education groups and was promoted heavily by President Barack Obama and his administration.
The state of California provides the details of its curriculum selection process on the California education website. The process begins with a framework for each education topic area. Each discipline includes an overview of teaching for each grade. The state’s history and social studies frameworks are among the most contested and controversial areas in current curriculum discussions and are thus worth considering specifically.
California has a process for adopting state-approved teaching materials, including a thorough review of all materials used in the classroom. This process applies to grades K-8. The high-school curriculum is given more flexibility.
The history and social science framework for California public schools, adopted by the California State Board of Education, begins with statements of educational importance, including the need for students to learn civics to become good citizens. The framework document, however, very quickly moves to a discussion of socioeconomic status and race.
“Children of color, children who do not speak English with fluency, and children living in poverty can struggle more than their privileged peers to achieve academically,” the document states. “It is the obligation of the state of California to provide all students with an engaging and relevant history—social science education that will shape how they participate in their world.”
The framework is designed to guide teachers, as well as publishers of curriculum and those who review curriculum at the local and state levels. The curriculum is expected to change over time, and the framework explicitly establishes a deconstructionist, politically charged perspective.
“The framework and standards also emphasize the importance of history as a constructed narrative that is continually being reshaped and retold,” the document states.
The framework includes guidance for teaching finance and economics—explicitly requiring a caricature of market freedom and indoctrination in Marxist talking points.
“Students will also consider some of the costs of unfettered capitalism, such as industrialization’s impact on the environment, child labor, disparities between rich and poor, and corporate practices such as the development of trusts and cartels,” the document states.
For selection of specific teaching materials, the California framework provides the foundation, and the education community uses that framework to select curricula. California law requires adherence to the approved standards or submission to an additional review process. No. EC Section 60210 states the following:
“(a) Notwithstanding any other law, a local educational agency may use instructional materials that are aligned with the academic content standards adopted pursuant to Section 60605 or 60605.8, including instructional materials that have not been adopted by the state board pursuant to Section 60200.
(b) Instructional materials for mathematics that are aligned to common core academic content standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative consortium pursuant to Section 60605.7 shall be deemed to be aligned to the content standards adopted pursuant to Section 60605 or 60605.8 for purposes of Section 60119.
(c) If a local educational agency chooses to use instructional materials that have not been adopted by the state board, the local educational agency shall ensure that a majority of the participants of any review process conducted by the local educational agency are classroom teachers who are assigned to the subject area or grade level of the materials.”
LEAs may also utilize supplemental resources that meet the requirements of the social content standards requirements.
“The state decides the standards,” Friedrichs said. “All textbooks write to those standards. The state then chooses six textbooks. Schools pick from that group that the state selects. A committee then gets together for a review. The curriculum committee should include parents and teachers with expertise in the subject.”
The current process prevents parents and taxpayers from influencing the curriculum decisions, Friedrich says.
“Books should not be created based on state standards,” Friedrich said. “Parents and community members should be involved. The process is broken.”
Friedrichs says the system has fallen apart largely because of collective bargaining.
“Unions make teachers beholden to them for their salaries, and unions use their power to kick parents out,” Friedrich said. “So, parents are no longer part of the process.”
Parents should have a say in curriculum decisions, says Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.
“Parents most definitely should have input in all areas of their children’s education,” Sand said. “The state has been taking its role in education to deeper and deeper levels over the years. At the same time, parents have been marginalized, and too many have become complacent. Due to recent events, that has been changing in a hurry, however. That said, each child can’t have their own curriculum, which is why universal school choice is so important.”
With the new awareness parents and community members now have of the political indoctrination becoming increasingly common in taxpayer-funded schools, alternatives are being considered more broadly. Parents are homeschooling, moving their children to private schools, and advocating for a more choice-based education system that includes non-union charter schools.
When schools refused to open throughout the pandemic, homeschooling exploded, Chris Talgo reports for School Reform News. Across racial lines, parents chose to educate their children at home rather than wait and see when the public school would decide to teach their children the skills and knowledge parents and taxpayers want them to learn.
School choice will be on election ballots next year in states such as California, Ohio, and South Carolina, and school choice legislation is under review in Kentucky, School Reform News reports.
School choice is extremely important, says Sand, and the long-term solution is to remove government from the education system completely.
“Parents, teachers, and all stakeholders need to come to some sort of consensus,” Sand said. “School boards need to be elected transparently. Clearly, not everyone will be pleased with whatever is agreed upon, which again is why school choice is of the utmost importance.
“My fix, which some consider radical, is to get the government out of schooling altogether,” Sand said. “We need to privatize education, just the way we do supermarkets.”