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News Media Joins the War Against Academic Transparency

March 8, 2022

March 8, 2022
By Matt Beienburg

Parents across the country are demanding to know what is being taught in K-12 schools, and they’re running up against fierce opposition from teachers unions. But parents have another opponent in their quest for curriculum transparency: the news media. With flawed and biased reporting, doctored evidence, and Critical Race Theory (CRT) denialism, the Arizona Republic—the state’s flagship newspaper—is the latest outlet to join the fight against parents’ rights.

It started this past month when Arizona lawmakers advanced a curriculum transparency bill that would require governmental K-12 schools to post online a listing of the instructional materials being used in the classroom. It’s not unlike laws introduced in more than 20 states with the goal of empowering parents to know what’s actually going into their kids’ lessons.

The Republic promptly roared into action to stifle the bill’s momentum, publishing a banner story titled, “Teachers Worry ‘Show What You’re Teaching’ Bill Will Pile More Weight on Heavy Workloads,” which included false reporting about the law’s requirements and doctored quotes from an Arizona teacher.

In the original version of the story, the Republic reported that teachers would have to post their curriculum online “a week before school started.” In reality, the bill requires that teachers post materials only after they are used (or in certain limited cases, 72 hours beforehand). The Republic got basic facts in the story wrong.

But that’s just the start. The original story also included a quote from an Arizona teacher opposed to curriculum transparency, bolstering the Republic’s narrative:

“Having teachers upload all their lessons for the entire year by a certain date is probably some of the worst practices that you can have,” said Nash, who teaches in the Chandler Unified School District. “You don’t know what students are going to need when you are planning for children you have never met before.”

That’s an awfully damning statement, but once the Republic recognized that it didn’t actually apply to the bill, the paper’s editors apparently decided to simply make it apply. The Republic altered the quote in a revised version of the story, replacing the above with the following:

“Having teachers upload all their lessons … is probably some of the worst practices that you can have,” said Nash, who teaches in the Chandler Unified School District.

Notice the strategically placed ellipses used to cover up the crucial few words in the original?

Honest mistakes happen, of course, and the Republic did correct its initial description of the bill and appended a correction notice that “A previous version of this article misstated when teachers would need to post their curriculum online.” But the paper gave no such disclaimer that it had also doctored the teacher’s quote to fundamentally change its meaning and ensure it still lined up with the paper’s preferred anti-transparency narrative. 

Playing devil’s advocate: Does the Republic actually have an agenda, or is this just a case of sloppy reporting? Let’s take a look at another piece of evidence. The same news team involved in the Republic’s article didn’t stop with that one flawed story. Their encore report two weeks later, titled “A Mistrust of Arizona’s Public Schools Runs Through Many of Legislature’s Education Bills,” parroted leftists’ debunked claim denying that CRT is being taught in K-12 schools, stating as if undisputed fact , “Critical race theory is an academic, theoretical concept about the impact of racism on society. It is not taught at the K-12 level, but conservatives have popularized the term as a catch-all phrase to describe school equity programs, teaching about systemic racism and examinations of difficult historical realities.” 

It’s a line we’ve heard from the head of the American Federation of Teachers union, and it’s a claim that has been debunked time and time again, including by whistleblowing teachers and public school administrators themselves. Indeed, the National Education Association itself has explicitly called for infusing CRT into K-12 curricula, and a sweeping investigation from RealClear recently chronicled CRT’s widespread influence throughout K-12 education.

The ugly fact of what’s being taught in the classroom is motivating parents’ call for academic transparency. Opponents of transparency are trying to undermine the new policy by claiming radical content like CRT is not being taught. And now, the Republic is adopting that very same tactic.

Unfortunately, the Republic is not alone. The Daily Beast recently maligned transparency as “authoritarian” and “censorious,” while their peers at Vox suggested academic transparency laws are a veiled attempt at book burning. Not only are these reports ignoring the truth of what academic transparency is all about, but they’re also ignoring a significant fact: An overwhelming majority of parents want to know what is being taught in the classroom, and teachers are lending their voices in support of the legislation, as well.

It’s the media’s job to get the facts right, honestly communicate information, and inform their readers—not to doctor the evidence in pursuit of a union-backed war on transparency.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute.



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