Parents in the Texas suburbs took the first step in reclaiming their schools in last week’s school board elections. Conservative candidates triumphed over progressive incumbents in “Frisco, Clear Creek, Grapevine, Southlake, Keller, Carroll, Spring Branch, Richardson, and even in Dripping Springs” (Austin). All of these districts are affluent suburbs with typically stellar public schools.
Many of the conservative candidates ran on opposition to critical race theory (CRT) and mask mandates, and this messaging resonated with frustrated voters. This might baffle observers who don’t actually see teachers in these districts incorporating CRT, except maybe in the elite private prep schools. Nor have there been mask mandates for a long time now. Nevertheless, these two issues played a role in schools, albeit under the surface, and it’s important to understand why this has set off parents.
How Critical Race Theory Atrophied Excellence
While leftist apologists in corporate media like to claim that CRT is a theory bandied about in graduate schools and that K-12 teachers don’t actually use the words “critical race theory,” they are wrong to assume this makes CRT a mythical rallying cry for white supremacist voters. In truth, CRT has brought about bad policy by subverting state governments, school boards, and district leaders with poisonous ideology and bad logic.
According to CRT dogma, all disparities in outcomes between different racial groups are attributable to systemic racism. Thus, if black and Hispanic students fail their classes and are suspended more often than white and Asian students, this must be because of racism, not because they aren’t working as hard or behaving as well. The problem supposedly lies with the discriminatory standards set, not with the students who aren’t meeting those standards.
From this perspective, affluent districts like Keller or Southlake with glaring achievement gaps between different racial groups have a big problem. On the whole, they may be exemplary, but their unequal performance outcomes would negate this. Instead of meeting the needs of their struggling students of color, they focused their efforts on serving the majority of competitive upper-middle-class students.
In order to fix this problem, these school districts’ priorities were accordingly flipped by left-leaning school board members and district leaders committed to CRT. As Luke Rosiak writes in his recent book “Race to the Bottom,” this has happened all over the country, particularly in ritzy suburban schools where “equity” (that is, ensuring equal outcomes) becomes the overarching goal of every policy. Since boosting performance across races while narrowing the pre-existing gap is impossible, the usual course of action is to flatten all students to the same low standard.
This is exactly what happened in these Texas school districts. In order to escape the charge of systemic racism and inequity, district leaders pushed agendas that would lower standards and expectations for everyone. Academically, this means they moved towards a “standards-based” or “project-based” model where grades became increasingly meaningless and the work was either playtime or mindless busywork. Behaviorally, schools like these in Texas promoted “restorative practices” that substituted therapy and permissiveness for accountability and correction.
Consequently, many formerly great public schools slid into mediocrity over the past few years. Fights, vandalism, and truancy have become increasingly common. Test scores started declining as more and more students reported doing nothing in their classes. And despite weekly “social emotional learning” (SEL) sessions with the students, depression, bullying, and various addictions have become the norm in classes. Among teachers, who have to deal with these issues on a daily basis, burnout is high.
Covid Was a Perfect Excuse to Launch ‘Equity’ War
Many parents might wonder why this is all happening now. Why did equity suddenly become a concern for these districts? Why are the superintendents in ritzy places like Grapevine or Clear Creek acting like their districts are impoverished minority-majority districts with high suspension and dropout rates?
This is where Covid comes in. It wasn’t so much that districts were mandating masks — we had those last school year, and it was awful — but that Covid became a perfect excuse to lower standards and focus on “social justice.” Why challenge students and demand good behavior from them when lockdowns and Covid restrictions make this all but impossible? It was better that educational leaders use this moment to address injustices happening on their campuses by resetting all of them with different norms and values.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before parents grew tired of the Covid excuse and noticed the change in their children. Whereas before Covid, parents would call and complain about teachers being too hard or too strict, now most of them are complaining about teachers doing nothing about misbehavior and not preparing their kids for college.
They also voiced their grievances at school board meetings, which became much more active in the wake of Covid. Although issues like masking, canceling extracurricular events, CRT, and banning various library books came up, most parents were upset about their neighborhood schools, which they were paying top dollar to be zoned for, falling short. And, as this recent election illustrates, the school boards had no good answer for them.
Although it’s tempting to take comfort in a changing of the guard, parents need to capitalize on this change and continue pushing for reform. They should realize now that schools and their school boards will indeed respond to pressure. For too long, that pressure has come from educational charlatans looking to exploit a crisis. Now is the time for parents to apply pressure in the other direction, to restore standards and excellence in their schools. Voting is just the first step.