by Kaitlyn Shepherd
Policy Analyst for the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Florida’s blueprint for K-12 education is a model for the nation, according to a new report released by the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the Claremont Institute.
The report describes the main tenets of Critical Social Justice, an umbrella term for ideologies that categorize individuals as either oppressors or oppressed based on characteristics such as sex, race, or disability. It then explains how adhering to this system of thought is bad for Florida’s education system.
According to the report, there are eight main vehicles by which the ideas behind Critical Social Justice make their way into K-12 schools: culturally responsive teaching, social-emotional learning programs, action civics, equity-based practices, restorative-justice discipline policies, whole-child education, trauma-informed pedagogy, and instruction or policies based on the tenets of Queer Theory.
In Florida, education leaders and policymakers at the state level have pushed back against these practices in several ways. Among other things, they have:
Should North Carolina emulate aspects of Florida’s approach to education? The report reveals three policy proposals that could be implemented to improve education in the Tar Heel State.
Florida law requires each “elementary school [to] publish on its website, in a searchable format … a list of all materials maintained in the school library media center or required as part of a school or grade-level reading list.”
North Carolina’s Parents’ Bill of Rights, passed into law in August, contains several transparency provisions. The new law reinforces parents’ right to view their child’s medical and educational records, to review statewide standardized assessment results and their child’s report card, and to review the record of all books their child checks out from the school library. Importantly, the Parents’ Bill of Rights also requires school districts to adopt procedures allowing parents to “inspect and review all textbooks and supplementary instructional materials that will be used in their child’s classroom” and to object to any of these materials.
North Carolina could build on these reforms and implement additional academic transparency measures that require schools to publish all lesson plans used during the previous year. Doing so would help prevent the personal ideological or political views of some teachers from spilling over into the classroom. It would also empower parents to be actively involved in their children’s education and make better-informed decisions about how and where to educate them.
Earlier this year, Florida became a leader in education freedom by passing an Education Savings Account program that is open to all K-12 students. The program empowers parents to customize their child’s education by providing restricted-use savings accounts that can finance a variety of educational goods and services such as tuition and fees at a private school, tutoring expenses, transportation costs, and more. North Carolina could emulate Florida’s example by removing income eligibility requirements and expanding its Opportunity Scholarship voucher program to serve all students.
Florida’s state standards for health education “require the teaching of abstinence as the expected standard outside of marriage.” Similarly, North Carolina state statute specifies that any reproductive health and safety program must “[t]each that abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the expected standard for all school-age children” (§115C-81.30(a)(1)). Additionally, instruction must “[t]each the positive benefits of abstinence until marriage and the risks of premarital sexual activity” (§115C-81.30(a)(6)). As North Carolina continues the process of revising its Healthful Living standards, which incorporate Health and Physical Education, it could follow Florida’s lead and ensure that the draft standards adhere to state requirements and uphold the standard of premarital abstinence as the expected standard for K-12 students.
Overall, “Florida’s Blueprint for K-12 Education” highlights why it is important for school boards to pass strong policies that put students and families first and resist the spread of social justice ideologies. Although Florida has implemented several beneficial reforms at the state level, elements of Critical Social Justice have still infiltrated Florida’s education system through policies, programs, and contracts at the district level. While state-level reforms are necessary and beneficial, local policies and procedures must not be neglected.
The report also underscores the value of empowering families to choose the educational provider that works best for each child. Allowing families to take their children’s education dollars to the school of their choice is the best way to empower them to choose a school that aligns with their family’s values and that meets the needs of each child.
Finally, the report should remind policymakers to be wary of the promise of “free” federal money. Although Florida has implemented several exemplary reforms at the state level, it has also accepted federal money for pregnancy prevention and social-emotional learning programs. These federal dollars are then used to implement curricula and programs that undermine the state’s strong heath education standards. Federal education money usually comes with strings attached that can undermine progress made in the statehouse, so North Carolina should be wary of accepting federal education dollars.
Read the report detailing aspects of Florida’s education system and suggesting opportunities for further reforms here.