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Washington Post Accidentally Advertises Importance of Academic Transparency

April 5, 2023

Apparently, hiding materials from parents is expensive. In the eyes of the Washington Post, however, that cost is parents’ fault. Indeed, regurgitating the teachers union narrative, a Post article this past week suggested that parents trying to find out what their children are learning in public schools are costing schools too much money in the process.

Here’s a simple solution, though it seemed to evade the Post’s crack reporting team: Maybe schools should stop hiding materials from parents in the first place. Maybe states should adopt Goldwater’s landmark Academic Transparency reform instead.

According to the Post article, public schools across the country are paying thousands of dollars and using precious staff time to fulfill public records requests regarding the content and communications taking place at K-12 schools. “Schools forced to divert staff amid historic flood of records requests,” blares the headline of the Post article, before noting that parents are “seek[ing] ‘transparency’ about what is being taught.” (Note the quotations around “transparency,” as if moms and dads concerned about what their kids are learning are lying about their true intentions, and really just want to make life more difficult for school staff.)

Fortunately, Goldwater-backed Academic Transparency laws would help eliminate the costs of prying open school secrets by simply requiring public school districts to post their learning materials online. Instead of an endless, costly tug-of-war over school records, Academic Transparency would equip parents with the information they seek while giving schools a robust tool to embrace transparency.

Even before the pandemic—but especially in its wake as parents began to see the kind of politicized content seeping into schools—alarm bells have been sounding about the lack of transparency in public K-12 education. Yet teachers union-aligned activists have vigorously opposed efforts to bring sunlight into the classroom, suggesting that divulging what is taught to kids would “chill” activist teachers’ ability to push materials on race and gender.

Indeed, that seems to be the narrative favored by the Post, who framed the parent-led movement for transparency as an unfair obstacle to school districts teaching whatever radical political content they desire. Never mind that it’s parents, not activist educators, who have a right to direct their children’s upbringing, and who thus need to know if their children are being indoctrinated in the classroom.


The resulting battle lines have left parents and conservative lawmakers pushing for full online transparency of the materials taught to students on one side, and union activists and other progressives on the other. Yet now, the Postseems to be going even further—suggesting that even the existing public records request processes in most states are too burdensome a transparency measure for schools.

“School leaders warn that resources are being diverted away from students’ academic needs at the exact instant America is facing dropping test scores, a teen mental health crisis and a teacher shortage,” the Post said.

Of course, if this is true, the solution is staring the paper in the face—not that the Post was interested in printing it.

As Nicole Solas—a mom who herself has been targeted by public school administrators for seeking to know what would be taught to her kindergarten daughter—observed to Fox News, “The solution to a burdensome influx of public records requests… is academic transparency in public school.”

In 2021, Wisconsin became the first state legislature to pass Goldwater’s Academic Transparency Act. As state Sen. Stephen Nass recognized at the time, listing school materials online would actually streamline the entire process for parents and schools “because it’s all out on the internet, so those costs and staff time and costs to the parent, they would disappear.”

Proactively posting materials online would help bring a détente between parents concerned about what’s being snuck into their kids’ classrooms and school administrators tasked with responding to the public records requests.

But while the Post seems to believe it’s parents who are to blame, even the paper itself is forced to acknowledge the absurdity of the current situation facing moms and dads around the country. Citing the struggles of Michigan mother Carol Litkouhi, for instance, the Post admits that “over the course of six months and a half-dozen Michigan Freedom of Information Act requests, the district declined to share the list of class readings and assignments Litkouhi had asked for.”

Unfortunately, such stonewalling has proven all too common, and public school officials all across the country have repeatedly gloated on hidden camera about the ease with which they have circumvented state laws against teaching Critical Race Theory” (CRT), for instance. What the Post apparently fails to understand is that these realities leave parents no option but to submit broad, wide-ranging records requests—lest administrators simply omit relevant records on the grounds they weren’t specifically asked for.

With online Academic Transparency in place, such records requests wouldn’t be necessary in the first place. Instead, parents, taxpayers, and other teachers could easily see what is being used to teach students in our public schools at the click of a button and without the price tag. Surely, even the Post and its pals in the media should be able to get on board with that.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also serves as director of the institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy.



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