January 25, 2022

By Matt Beienburg

The national movement to protect parents’ right to be involved in their kids’ education is quickly gaining momentum, prompting opponents to shift their hysterics into high gear. On one side are advocates for curriculum transparency who want to empower parents with knowledge, while on the other side are education “experts” trying their hardest to keep parents in the dark.

As Americans celebrate National School Choice Week with ever-expanding opportunities for students’ educational freedom, lawmakers in more than a dozen states have also rolled out legislation this year to guarantee more meaningful awareness of what’s being taught to our kids in the classroom. But these bills—based on the Goldwater Institute’s academic transparency initiative—recently struck a nerve with left-wing activists committed to opposing parental involvement in their children’s education.

Indeed, just a day after NBC News launched national coverage of these bills—which would require schools to post online a list of the instructional materials being used in the classroom—opponents of parents’ rights went berserk, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) declaring:

“Curriculum transparency bills are just thinly veiled attempts at chilling teachers and students from learning and talking about race and gender in schools.”

In other words, simply allowing parents and the public to see for themselves what is being taught in government-operated schools represents a threat to free speech.

Given the left’s insistence that politically radical, divisive content like “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) is nowhere to be found in public K-12 education—despite abundant evidence to the contrary—it is perhaps no surprise that CRT apologists and their allies would seek to do all in their power to preserve that rapidly crumbling narrative for as long as possible, including by opposing basic transparency requirements.

Yet these activists’ words mark a shameless and embarrassing reversal of political principles, as groups including the ACLU itself have long championed for government transparency in the past, including school curricula.

Perhaps more significantly, statements like the ACLU’s betray a fundamental belief that parents represent an impediment to the education of their children—one simply needing to be overcome or circumvented.

But especially in the age of public school lockdowns—in which many parents found themselves double-hatting as professionals and at-home educators—parents deserve to be treated better.

So it should be no surprise that actual free speech advocates have already lined up to defend parents’ rights and the principle of transparency in K-12 curricula, while the same organizations that have advocated for shutting students out of the classroom are now ones to take the side of shutting parents out of seeing what is being taught to their kids.

Fortunately, just as union-led efforts to endlessly lock down students have finally begun to cost them even the support of some of their staunchest allies, their attempts to block additional new school choice and curriculum transparency efforts this year are increasingly positioned to fail.

Just as last year brought the doubling of the number of states with education savings account programs from five to 10, 2022 promises the potential of even greater progress toward educational freedom and parental empowerment.  

It’s for that reason that the Goldwater Institute remains proud to advocate for increasing access to school choice programs, while also ensuring that parents have access to the information necessary to help make an informed choice about their children’s education. The Institute’s Sunlight in Learning Act has provided a roadmap for state lawmakers across the country to advance academic transparency this year.

Championed by parents, teachers, and scholars alike, such policies offer a path forward for restoring the balance of power between schools and the families they are intended to serve. So as Americans celebrate National School Choice Week, it’s now up to lawmakers to take that path and ensure that school choice and transparency in education become the laws of the land for all families seeking the best for their kids.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy and the Director of the Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy at the Goldwater Institute.

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