Hall Pass: Your Ticket to Understanding School Board Politics, Edition #25

Welcome to Hall Pass. This newsletter keeps you plugged into the conversations driving school board politics and governance. Each week, we bring you a roundup of the latest on school board elections, along with sharp commentary and research from across the political spectrum on the issues confronting school boards in the country’s more than 13,000 school districts. We’ll also bring you the latest on school board elections and recall efforts, including candidate filing deadlines and election results.

In today’s edition, you’ll find:

  • On the issues: The debate over critical race theory and its effect on students
  • School board filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications
  • In your district: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your time in the public education system?
  • Texas State Board of Education discusses changes to the state’s social studies curriculum
  • Parents sue Tennessee school district over curriculum including race and gender topics
  • Extracurricular: education news from around the web
  • Candidate Connection survey

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On the issues: The debate over critical race theory and its effect on students

In this section, we curate reporting, analysis, and commentary on the issues school board members deliberate when they set out to offer the best education possible in their district.

The definition of critical race theory (CRT), CRT’s place in K-12 public schools, and the existence of CRT in K-12 public schools have been subjects of debate in recent years. This section features two perspectives on the CRT conversation in California. For more perspectives, check out our article on the main areas of inquiry and disagreement related to CRT, where we’ve curated 16 arguments and 46 separate claims related to CRT’s history, theory, and practice.

Jill Kerper Mora writes that CRT helps explain how laws and policies can promote racial inequalities. Mora says CRT in schools can help students think critically about civics and society and can help them meet California state education standards. She also says arguments opposing CRT concepts misconstrue the theory to make it sound unreasonable.

Mark Powell says CRT is an idea that suggests American laws and institutions are inherently racist and designed by white people to promote their interests and subjugate people of color. Powell says the theory puts people into oppressed and oppressor groups based on the color of their skin, which he says is divisive and damaging to kids under 16. 

‘Critical Race Theory’ Is Now a Dangerously Divisive Straw Man in Our Schools | Jill Kerper Mora, Times of San Diego

“As its name suggests, CRT is a theory — a system of ideas and general principles that is intended to explain how some laws and public policies perpetuate racial inequality and discrimination. The purpose of CRT is to promote critical thinking and rigorous analysis to overcome and rectify injustices that can occur in a racially, culturally and linguistically diverse society. These academic objectives are aligned with the learning outcomes articulated in the state-adopted curriculum standards approved by the Legislature and the State Board of Education for the core content of American history and ethnic studies courses. Unfortunately, critical race theory is being used as a straw man by opportunistic politicians and others who want to promote, rather than resolve, conflict to further their own dubious agendas. … The controversy generated by the opponents of critical race theory is especially problematic since public school teachers have a responsibility to ensure that their students meet the state curriculum standards. Teachers design courses that conform to the requirements in the authorizing statute and other legal requirements for curriculum in California. … Teachers need to be supported in creating opportunities in their classrooms for students to examine the role of racism as a divisive force throughout history and in the modern world.”

The Risks of Teaching History Through the Lens of Critical Race Theory | Mark Powell, Times of San Diego

“Critical race theory, as the 40-year-old thesis is popularly understood, suggests that institutions and laws are inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of color. This controversial theory should not be taught in public schools, especially to students between 6 and 16 — a time when children are establishing their sense of identity. During these years, children make strides toward adulthood by developing a sense of self-esteem and individuality. … Critical race theory suggests that American institutions, laws, and history are inherently racist. It argues that white people have put up social, economic, and legal barriers between the races in order to maintain their elite status, both economically and politically. The result is not equality or justice. Instead, people are categorized. One’s gender, race, or sexual orientation makes you either the “oppressed” or an “oppressor,” a status from which you are freed only when existing societal structures are overthrown. Supporters of critical race theory suggest those who don’t subscribe to it are enemies in the fight to defeat racism. … But critical race theory is not history; it is an arcane academic concept and should be treated as such. To teach it would be a divisive prescription for addressing racial issues.”

In your district: the biggest changes in public education

School districts around the country face diverse issues and challenges. We want to hear what’s happening in your school district. Complete the very brief survey below—anonymously if you prefer—and we may share your response with fellow subscribers in an upcoming newsletter.

Today’s question:

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in your time working in or observing the public education system?

Click here to respond!

School board update: filing deadlines, election results, and recall certifications

Ballotpedia has historically covered school board elections in about 500 of the country’s largest districts. We’re gradually expanding the number we cover with our eye on all of the more than 13,000 districts with elected school boards.

Election results from the past week

Tennessee

We covered the following school board general elections on Aug. 4. Select a district to see results. 

Minnesota

We covered the following school board primary elections on Aug. 9.

Upcoming school board elections

Florida

We’re covering school board primary elections in 24 districts on Aug. 23. Click here for a full list of districts.

Texas State Board of Education discusses changes to the state’s social studies curriculum

In an Aug. 1 meeting, the Texas State Board of Education began discussing proposed changes to the state’s social studies curriculum—particularly U.S. history—that would align with Senate Bill 3. Senate Bill 3, which went into effect in December 2021, prohibits teaching what it defines as divisive concepts. Examples include promoting ideas that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” and that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The state board is responsible for updating the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards every eight years. 

Sen. Bryan Hughes (R), who authored Senate Bill 3, spoke to the board to offer guidance on how the law works. Hughes said the “bill is not an attempt to sanitize or to teach our history in any other way than the truth—the good, the bad and the ugly—and those difficult things that we’ve been through and those things we’ve overcome.” Hughes also said, “No one is saying that we don’t have systemic racism. But what we’re saying is, we’ve made a lot of progress. We have a long way to go. But the way to get there is to come together as Americans.”

State Board of Education member Aicha Davis (D) said Senate Bill 3 has been damaging to the public school system: “We always talk about teachers leaving in droves and this was one of the reasons.” Davis said, “Teachers were literally scared to teach even the TEKS that existed because of this.”

The proposed curriculum updates are available for review on the Texas Education Agency’s website and are open for public comment. The Texas State Board of Education will vote on proposed changes to the curriculum in November. 

 Learn who sets K-12 curriculum in public schools across the 50 states here

Parents sue Tennessee school district over curriculum including race and gender topics

On July 8, the group Parents’ Choice Tennessee sued Williamson County school district officials for allegedly violating state laws restricting teachings on race and gender.

Tennessee House Bill 580, approved on June 1, prohibits school districts from incorporating materials into the curriculum that portray the United States as racist or sexist, or that make students feel uncomfortable because of their race or sex. Parents’ Choice Tennessee claims the school district’s English/language arts curriculum contains age-inappropriate material that discusses topics of race. The group is seeking to have the school district permanently remove the curriculum. 

Trisha Lucente, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and the founder of Parents’ Choice Tennessee, said that she would prefer a “true English Language Arts curriculum that teaches phonics, classical literature, and is free of any politics or political agenda.” 

Jennifer Cortez, co-founder of an organization that advocates for students of color in the school district, said, “[m]y daughter went through these Civil Rights modules and didn’t feel one ounce of white guilt about it. She just felt sad that that happened. Meanwhile, our students of color are dealing with actual harassment.”

The case was filed in Tennessee’s Twenty-First Judicial District.

Click here to learn more about responses to trends in public education curriculum development.

Extracurricular: education news from around the web

This section contains links to recent education-related articles from around the internet. If you know of a story we should be reading, reply to this email to share it with us! 

Take our Candidate Connection survey to reach voters in your district

Today, we’re highlighting survey responses from the Nov. 8 Wake County Public School System school board general elections in North Carolina. Michael T. Williams is running for election to represent District 4, while Jacob Arthur is running to represent District 7. 

Nine seats on the board are up for election. 

Here’s how Williams responded to the question “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”

“I am passionate about ensuring that our schools have the human, physical, fiscal, technological, and other resources necessary to meet the needs of the students we serve. While the tax base in our community may not be as high as some other parts of the district, our students are just as valuable and important as those in the more affluent areas of the district. It is incumbent upon us as parents, guardians, and concerned citizens to ensure that every student in our area receives a quality education from highly qualified professionals, in safe and modern facilities replete with state of the art technological and instructional resources.”

Click here to read the rest of Williams’ responses. 

Here’s how Arthur responded to the question “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?”

“There is no reason Wake County Public Schools should not be the best in the nation. For far too long, the school board has flown under the radar to implement their social agenda rather than focusing on sound education. This has resulted in falling proficiency rates in reading and math, year over year for the past decade. It is time to change leadership and head in a new direction by empowering parents, investing in students and supporting teachers.”

Click here to read the rest of Arthur’s responses.  

If you’re a school board candidate or incumbent, click here to take the survey.

The survey contains more than 30 questions, and you can choose the ones you feel will best represent your views to voters. If you complete the survey, a box with your answers will display on your Ballotpedia profile. Your responses will also that appears in our mobile app, My Vote Ballotpedia.

And if you’re not running for school board, but there is an election in your community this year, share the link with the candidates and urge them to take the survey!




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Ballotpedia staff