Parent involvement in education, the Democrats’ Achilles’ heel


Terry McAuliffe probably lost any hope of winning his race for Virginia governor when he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” McAuliffe might well have lost anyway, but some observers thought at the time, and most think now, that he was doomed once he made that remark.

In future elections, Democratic candidates will, I assume, avoid making statements like McAuliffe’s. But Stanley Kurtz asks:

What if. . .every sitting Democratic governor and Democratic state representative in the country were to cast an on-the-record vote to cut parents out of a say over the curriculum at their local school?

Such a vote might well sink more than a few such Democrats. But can they be forced to vote on this matter?

Stanley thinks so. In fact, he says that “several such votes have already happened, and more will be taken in state legislatures this year.” He explains:

I’m not talking about votes on bills that bar critical race theory (CRT) from K–12. I’m talking about state laws that mandate curriculum transparency — new laws detailed enough to require public Internet posting not only of textbooks and reading assignments, but also of teacher lesson plans, teacher handouts, accounts of political-advocacy exercises known as “action civics,” and other similar material generally hidden from parents.

The Goldwater Institute has just released the “Sunlight in Learning Act,” model legislation that represents the state of the art in K–12 curriculum transparency, combining prior efforts of both Goldwater and the Manhattan Institute. Goldwater’s Sunlight in Learning Act is going to kick the curriculum transparency issue into high gear nationally.

The new model will likely inspire bills in many states. Every time it does, Democrats who vote against curriculum transparency, as they did with depressing regularity in 2021, will effectively be repeating — on record — McAuliffe’s gaffe.

A vote against this legislation is a vote against parent involvement in the education of their children. As Stanley observes:

Parents can’t have a say over what happens in their children’s schools if they don’t know what’s being taught. Sadly, classroom teaching is largely a black box. Vague state education standards and local curriculum guidelines allow individual principals, curriculum coaches, and teachers to effectively tweak and control the great majority of classroom content.

Therefore:

A vote against curriculum transparency is a vote to keep the public in the dark, to shut out parents, and to allow teachers to politicize the classroom. Even voters who may know little of CRT will immediately be struck by the legitimacy and importance of teacher transparency.

What progress has been made in getting legislatures to vote on curriculum transparency?

The 2021 state-legislative session. . .saw several bills inspired by the initial Goldwater Institute transparency model, or other similar proposals. A bill passed the North Carolina House on a near-party-line vote but languished in the North Carolina Senate, likely because a CRT bill (which did not become law) took priority.

The Republican-majority Wisconsin State Legislature passed a good transparency bill on a strict party-line vote, after which Democratic governor Tony Evers vetoed it. Arizona passed a Goldwater-inspired transparency bill through the Republican-controlled Senate on a strict party-line vote, after which the bill stalled in the nearly evenly divided Arizona House.

Fifteen Illinois Republicans, led by Representative Steven Reick, sponsored a Goldwater-based transparency bill, but it was held up without a hearing in the Democrat-dominated Illinois legislature. Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor Tom Wolf vetoed a transparency bill passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. The Pennsylvania bill was not as thorough in its disclosure requirements as the Goldwater Institute or Manhattan Institute models. Pennsylvania should consider a new bill based on Goldwater’s Sunlight in Learning Act this year.

So far, then, Democrats have almost uniformly opposed curriculum transparency legislation. Their view of the matter mirrors the one that Terry McAuliffe espoused, to his detriment.

Maybe this will change. I hope it does.

For now, however, the issue looks like a political winner for Republicans. It’s also, as Stanley says, “the next big play in the battle to take back America’s schools.”



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