It is hard to think of anyone bringing more positive change to public education than Chris Rufo. His latest proposal is pure brilliance; how can anyone object to transparency?
At a minimum, parents should be able to know what’s being taught to their children in the classroom. Transparency is a virtue for all of our public institutions, but especially for those with power over children. To that end, we have drafted a template—building on one of our earlier efforts at the Manhattan Institute and the work of Matt Beienburg at the Goldwater Institute—to inform state legislatures seeking to foster school transparency. The policy proposal is designed to provide public school parents with easy access—directly on school websites—to materials and activities used to train staff and teachers and to instruct children.
Our model for transparency adequately balances the needs for robust curricula and parents’ rights in a pluralistic society. It does not attempt to define specific concepts, methods, or ideologies. Nor does it seek to ban, restrict, or discourage any materials, activities, or pedagogies. Its aim is simply to provide parents with information about the curricula used in the classroom across all subjects—and to let families, teachers, and schools negotiate disagreements at the local level. If they cannot resolve their differences, parents have options: petition elected leaders or run for school board seats themselves, move to a different area, or remove their children from the public school system. According to the Education Liberty Alliance, 11 states already have state-law provisions for parental review of curricular material. Legislatures in Utah, Arizona, and Wisconsin have recently seen bills introduced to require online access. More states will surely follow. It’s important to strike the right balance. We are sensitive to the concern that state or local policy should not overburden teachers with compliance-related paperwork. Our blueprint for transparency in education thus requires listing only essential information about curricular materials and activities, such as title, author, organization, and a web link, if available. Moreover, most teachers already use free cloud storage systems, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive, to organize their materials; to satisfy our proposed transparency requirements, teachers could simply share a link. For those who do not already use such systems, the parents’ right to know what is happening in the classroom easily justifies the extra effort. By focusing on transparency, our prescriptions sidestep arguments about “censorship” in public schools. (Realistically speaking, any school necessarily has to pick and choose what to teach among near-infinite options. For the record, we think Toni Morrison’s acclaimed novel Beloved is an excellent addition to high school curricula; we’re far more dubious about sharing Maia Kobabe’s sexually graphic cartoon book Gender Queer with elementary school students.) Our transparency-based approach also ignores pointless debates about whether critical race theory is actually being taught in K-12 schools.