Mainstream media fuel war on parents by misleading on teachers’ curriculum transparency

There’s a new shadow looming over the battle for America’s public schools. As parents request more information about what’s being taught in the classroom, a powerful institution has gone all-in with the deeply entrenched special interests who oppose the academic (curriculum) transparency movement.

That institution is the mainstream news media — specifically, state-based “news” outlets across the country. Now they’re working in lockstep with teachers unions to dismiss parents’ concerns. This comes after the well-documented efforts by left-leaning school boards and the Department of Justice to claim parents concerned with their child’s curriculum are “domestic terrorists.”

Around the nation, parents are waking up to the radical leftist content infiltrating their kids’ schools. They’re seeing the evidence from the public school teachers and administrators willing to speak out as classrooms turn into hotbeds of political indoctrination. As a result, parents are making a simple yet crucial demand: Transparency. They don’t want to be bullied, harassed, sued and charged tens of thousands of dollars to find out what their children are being taught in taxpayer-funded schools. They want schools to stop keeping them in the dark.

But as parents urge state lawmakers to pass academic transparency reforms, many media outlets are coming to the aid of a public education establishment that wants the status quo to remain unchanged. It’s a coordinated effort to gaslight parents and mislead the public about the very nature of academic transparency legislation. Meanwhile, they’re ignoring the voices of teachers who have taken a public stand in favor of posting lessons online and shining a light on the curriculum.

The most egregious example of this manipulative malfeasance comes from The Arizona Republic, in its “reporting” on a bill that requires public schools to post online a listing of the instructional materials being used in the classroom.

The original version of the story claimed the bill would force teachers to post their curriculum online “a week before school started.” That’s not true — what the bill actually requires is for teachers to post materials after they are used (or, in certain limited cases, 72 hours beforehand).

But it gets much worse. The original story included the following, a seemingly damning quote from a teacher opposed to the legislation: “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,” the teacher said . She later added, “You don’t know what students are going to need when you are planning for children you have never met before.”

Of course, that quote was based on a crucial misreading of the bill, and the provisions of the legislation rendered the concern about posting a year’s worth of content ahead of time irrelevant. But The Republic simply adjusted the story to reflect the truth about the bill and altered the quote to make it apply: “Having teachers upload all their lessons … is probably some of the worst practices that you can have.”

That’s worse than bad journalism—it’s outright dishonest. When the facts didn’t back up its anti-transparency slant, The Republic doctored the evidence to fit its preferred narrative.

It’s the same narrative that many outlets across the country are parroting as they leave reporting behind and join in the leftwing advocacy against academic transparency.

We saw it in an editorial from North Carolina’s Winston-Salem Journal, which mischaracterized academic transparency legislation under consideration in the state legislature as a Republican effort to “harass and control” teachers by “limiting what they can and can’t teach.”

We saw it in Kansas’ Topeka Capital-Journal, which published an op-ed from a teacher who claimed a better solution than academic transparency would be for parents to just trust educators.

We saw it in the headline of a “news” article from Orlando Weekly that declared academic transparency legislation “would give Florida’s loudest uncles power over school curriculum.”

We saw it in a report from Colorado Newsline that sought to downplay parents’ worries by falsely asserting critical race theory has “little connection to K-12 curricula.” (Former California public school teacher Kali Fontanilla would like a word.)

We saw it in Iowa’s Quad-City Times, which cited vague “censorship” concerns from unidentified “free speech advocates.”

We saw it in the second paragraph of a Chalkbeat Chicago article that said proposed academic transparency measures in Illinois “could prohibit educators from using content that covers an array of topics” — then provided zero evidence to back up that allegation.

The media is distorting parents’ fight for their rights as an attempt to suppress student learning and to add more weight to teachers’ workloads. Perhaps some of these outlets think that if they paint this movement as a fringe campaign to burn books and malignant teachers, then Americans will fall in line, and lawmakers will ignore parents’ cries.

But the vast majority of Americans support academic transparency, polling shows. In fact, the American public overwhelmingly rates “parents” as the most appropriate group to influence conversations with children about controversial issues of race and sex, even as groups like the ACLU clearly prefer otherwise.

This nationwide movement for parents’ rights isn’t going anywhere, no matter what the mainstream media says. Lawmakers should take heed and stand behind parents.

• Matt Beienburg is director of education policy at the Goldwater Institute. Joe Setyon is a digital communications associate at the Goldwater Institute.

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