Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institution writes about ways that the world’s billionaires could solve persistent global problems by paying an annual tax of 1% of their wealth.

He writes:

Until recently, even the wealthiest individuals did not have enough money to make a material dent in global problems, let alone “solve” them. Compared to the size of national economies, or the budgets of the governments of national economies, their wealth appeared small.

This is no longer the case. There are 2,755 billionaires in the world today, with an estimated wealth of $13.2 trillion. Even just 1 percent of this wealth (equivalent to a tax rate of 15-20 percent on the accrued income that billionaires have received with returns of 5-7 percent per year) would yield a flow of $130 billion per year. This can be compared with annual official aid (net ODA) of roughly $160 billion from all countries and multilateral institutions combined. Looking for contributions from billionaires has moved from a nice-to-have niche improvement to becoming part of the conversation on financing to solve large-scale global issues.

What could be done with $130 billion each year?

Figure 1 below provides some estimates of the cost of solving selected global problems. For example, updating previous work, I estimate that $95 billion would be enough to eradicate extreme poverty for all the 708 million people in the world living below the international threshold of $1.90 per person per day. Yes, a 1 percent contribution from the world’s billionaires would provide more than enough resources to end extreme poverty today.

Other major global issues have less precise costing estimates but paint a similar picture. The issue of “solving” world hunger has a range of estimates, partly because solving hunger is not simply about having enough food, but about having consistent access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food, often in conflict-prone, or climate change-affected areas. Preferably, the food should also be grown in a sustainable way and the food system changes required depend on simultaneous system changes in health, energy, and transport. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) nevertheless estimates that annual investments of $39 billion to $50 billion would be required to achieve a world without hunger by 2030. This includes both the 800 million people suffering from acute food insecurity, as well as the 1.5 billion additional people suffering from moderate food insecurity.

If you were a billionaire, wouldn’t you be willing to support a 1% tax on your wealth that would save the lives of millions of people living in desperate conditions?

Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, announced yesterday that Bloomberg Philanthropies will spend $750 million to expand the charter school sector. Declaring that “the American public education system is tragically broken,” Bloomberg pledged to add 150,000 seats in “high-quality charter schools” over five years, with the intention of “closing the achievement gap.”

As mayor, Bloomberg had total control of the New York City public school system, which he reorganized and disrupted repeatedly. His first pick for chancellor of the schools was antitrust corporate lawyer Joel Klein, who distrusted experienced educators and turned to McKinsey and Goldman Sachs for advice. Bloomberg’s second pick for chancellor was a magazine publisher with no experience in education; she lasted just 90 days.

Bloomberg apparently decided that he couldn’t achieve sweeping change in the public schools, so he became a champion for outsourcing students to privately managed charter schools. As his press release shows, he continues to believe his own puffery. The NYC public schools continue to be plagued with crowded classrooms, while charter schools enjoy privileged status, such as co-locations inside public schools, depriving them of facilities, and rent in private spaces paid by the city.

Although the press release claims that Bloomberg’s decision is based on “evidence,” it completely ignores the large number of charter schools that close every year, the high attrition rates of charter students and teachers, and the multiple studies showing that charter schools are outperformed by public schools, except when the charters curate their enrollment to exclude students who are unlikely to succeed or conform.

One of the richest men in the world, Bloomberg loves market solutions to public problems. In his 12 years as mayor, he did not transform the public school system that he controlled. Evidently he has learned nothing about education in the eight years since he left office.

How does it help the 85-90% of students in public schools to invest in a privately run sector that, contrary to his claims, has not demonstrated success in closing the achievement gap and that poaches students and resources from public schools?

How will it “close the achievement gap” to spend $750 million to add 150,000 seats to the charter sector?

You read the news: another school shooting. This time in Michigan. Students and teachers in most schools have drills to practice defense against a shooter, in this case, a sophomore in the high school. Why did he have a gun? Why did he shoot? What will the country do to prevent future school shootings? Will we ever have gun control? After Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, and countless other such massacres, we know the answer. It’s not the answer that one would expect in a civilized country. Next time you hear a politician spouting off about being pro-life, ask him or her how they can be pro-life and pro-gun.

A sixth-grade teacher, Melissa McMullan, shared her reaction to the latest tragedy:

She writes:

Today, I am deeply saddened by the loss of lives, injuries sustained, and emotional trauma that will all reside permanently with those impacted by the actions of a child compelled to bring a gun to school in order to kill. I am also struck by the heroism of teachers.

I find myself thinking about the promise of public education. Education is our society’s most potent weapon. It has the potential to be the great equalizer, eradicating poverty and fostering independence. This drives me to love my students fiercely and continually strive to offer better instruction than the day before. I am not alone. My building and school district are filled to the brim with teachers who pour everything they have into their classrooms every day. We are not alone. Across the country, teachers go into their classrooms every day to give their students everything they have. And then some.

But we are suffering. Our students are suffering. We are asked to keep our students seated three feet apart, make sure they are wearing masks, monitor mask breaks, teach outside, make sure we are simultaneously offering virtual instruction to students who cannot come to school, manage the continual flood of absences and find ways to keep our instruction moving forward. We counsel students, their families, and our colleagues about the uncertainties of living through a pandemic that no one has a handle on. How our students learn, and what they need from us have vastly changed. Yet, as always, we are asked to comply with an antiquated (and irrelevant) teacher evaluation system.

What happened on Tuesday, at a school outside of Detroit, is a sickening reminder of what matters. People sent their children to school and three will never come home. Some were injured, and the scars from those injuries will never leave them. While many others, albeit physically unscathed, will never get over the trauma of having the safety of their school violated in such a manner. And a child had access to a gun, knew how to use it, and used it to injure and kill students and teachers in his school community.

What struck me is that teachers, as always, stepped in and did exactly what they needed to do to protect their students. I am in awe reading about the teacher who heard gunshots and quickly responded. The teacher was able to get all of the students in the room, lock and barricade the door with desks, and ask students to arm themselves with objects to throw should the door be breached. Ultimately the teacher had the students jump out the window for safety.

I am left wondering how many more responsibilities can we give teachers? How long will our leaders ignore the overwhelming list of responsibilities that have been added to our plates, while continuing to evaluate us based upon metrics that have no relevance? We have to ask ourselves:

What do our nation’s children need from public education?

How do we support teachers in meeting our children’s needs?

Our current metrics are not only costing valuable time, energy, and resources, but they are part of a system that is failing teachers and the students they love. What took place in Michigan is not the canary in the coal mine, it’s the mushroom cloud. We need leaders to stand up now.


Melissa McMullan, PhD, 6th Grade Teacher

John F. Kennedy Middle School

Port Jefferson Station, NY 11776

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, has written an incisive analysis of the libertarian attack on democracy and public education, funded by billionaires and advanced by rightwing think tanks. He “follows the money,” and it leads him to Charles Koch, the Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, ALEC, the Manhattan Institute— and other oligarchs and their tools.

He pulls no punches as he weaves together the contrived panics over “critical race theory” and anti-maskers. “Parents Defending Education” and “Moms for Liberty” are but a few of the astroturf groups who have been mobilized to terrorize school boards and other parents. Funded by Dark Money.

Ultican writes:

Nancy MacLean observed that Buchanan and Koch had concluded, “There was no glossing over it anymore; democracy was inimical to economic liberty.” (Democracy in Chains page 152)

The anti-democratic impulse of the oligarch must be contained. There is an underlying wisdom to democratic decision making. It is a wisdom that bends toward equity and humanism. Public education is the soil from which that wisdom can flower. For the past five decades, an autocratic businessman has been pushing our country in the direction of widespread suffering and discrimination.

Neither capitalism nor socialism is a perfect guide for society. Education, medicine, prisons and policing are not well suited to a strict capitalist approach. A strict socialist approach does not function well in manufacturing, farming and entertainment. Ideologues demanding one of these two economic methods to the exclusion of the other are a problem. The guide to balancing these competing ideologies is humanism. In other words ponder, “The policy best serving the majority of the people while maintaining a keen eye to insure that the minority is not abused.”

The best way to move society forward toward a more perfect union is to make democracy ever more inclusive. And the best way to improve democracy is to protect and fund public education.

An important read.

Blogger Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) explains the competition between Donald Trump and Florida Ron DeSantis for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 (both want to turn the clock back to 1924!)

Trump made DeSantis by endorsing him for Governor when he was an o score Congressman. Trump does not like ingratitude.

GOT describes DeSantis’ passion to ban mandates for masking in the schools.

How does Ron do it? One way is throwing raw meat, bloody and dripping, to the party’s base. Meat like convening a special legislative session to bar local school boards from implementing mask mandates as a public health measure during a pandemic….

The rallying cry these days for tearing apart public education and dividing the spoils among … edupreneurs, hedge fund investors, and TFA champions who signed up to spend two years in a classroom because they hadn’t figured out what to do with their lives and realized that they had staked out a claim to a gold mine.

DeSantis defends parents’ rights, among them the right for parents to spread sickness and disease to other people’s children.

It’s no surprise to GOT that he has had several children home in quarantine during November. It’s no surprise that he is receiving daily emails from students that they will not be in school. If they don’t say they have Covid, they say they don’t feel well, are running a fever, or having other symptoms.

Some mention a diagnosis of strep throat. It’s not only Covid that’s now running through the bodies of children. But we have discarded the lessons of the pandemic, that a simple mask and common sense regarding classroom practices go far to keep children healthy….

No masks, no vaccine, DeSantis is the cancerous version of that Vegas cliche: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

He wants to be president. If that doesn’t frighten you, this should: he would likely bring Richard Corcoran to Washington to be his Secretary of Education. Trust GOT, that would make you nostalgic for the days of Devos.

Today is #GivingTuesday, a day to support the organizations and causes you believe in. If you care about public schools, if you oppose the efforts to privatize them, please support the Network for Public Education.

Whether it is voucher legislation, charter expansion, wild disruptions of school board meetings, or the slashing of school funding, it is clear that the extreme right-wing is waging war against public schools. NPE is the only national organization dedicated to stopping school privatization, which is the extremists’ ultimate goal. That is our primary mission.

Please give to NPE this Giving Tuesday and join us as we push back against the school privatization agenda. If you give $250 or more, we’ll send you a signed copy of one of NPE President Diane Ravitch’s books.

Donate Now

Privatization is making progress. In Arizona, almost 20% of all students attend charter schools. An additional 99,000 students are receiving vouchers. For the first time, more than half of our states have a voucher program–many with multiple programs. Ohio now has six! All of these programs rob our public schools of precious resources, and when disappointed families return to public schools, their children are often woefully behind.

Won’t you join the fight and give to NPE this Giving Tuesday?

Your gift supports our research and advocacy. Our reports receive national attention and combat the campaign of disinformation and biased reporting from privatization think tanks like Ed Choice, Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

But we can’t do that work without your help. Please make your tax-deductible donation today.

Donate Now

New Book: The Privatization of Everything

Speaking of privatization, consider giving yourself a holiday present by purchasing this important new book written by good friends of NPE.

The Privatization of Everything by Donald Cohen, the founder of In the Public Interest, and bestselling historian Allen Mikaelian chronicles the efforts to turn our public goods into private profit centers from the era of Libertarian Milton Friedman to the present. Privatization has touched every aspect of our lives, from schools, water, and trash collection to the justice system and the military. You can find the book at your local independent bookstore or on Bookshop.org.

We wish you a wonderful and healthy beginning to your holiday season. Thank you for all that you do, and please, help us keep the lights on by giving to NPE.

You can view the post at this link : https://networkforpubliceducation.org/fight-school-privatization-give-to-npe/

Education Week reported that a decade of “reforms” focused on tougher teacher evaluations produced no improvement in student test scores.

More than a decade ago, policymakers made a multi-billion-dollar bet that strengthening teacher evaluation would lead to better teaching, which in turn would boost student achievement. But new research shows that, overall, those efforts failed: Nationally, teacher evaluation reforms over the past decade had no impact on student test scores or educational attainment.

The research is the latest indictment of a massive push between 2009 and 2017, spurred by federal incentives, philanthropic investments, and a nationwide drive for accountability in K-12 education, to implement high-stakes teacher evaluation systems in nearly every state.

Prior to the reforms, nearly all teachers received satisfactory ratings in their evaluations. So policymakers from both political parties introduced more-robust classroom observations and student-growth measures—including standardized test scores—into teachers’ ratings, and then linked the performance ratings to personnel decisions and compensation.

“There was a tremendous amount of time and billions of dollars invested in putting these systems into place, and they didn’t have the positive effects reformers were hoping for,” said Joshua Bleiberg, an author of the study and a postdoctoral research associate at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. “There’s not a null effect in every place where teacher evaluation [reform] happened. … [But] on average, [the effect on student achievement] is pretty close to zero.”

The evaluation reforms were largely unpopular among teachers and their unions, who argued that incorporating certain metrics, like student test scores, was unfair and would drive good educators out of the profession. Yet proponents—including the Obama administration—argued that tougher evaluations could identify, and potentially weed out, the weakest teachers while elevating the strongest ones…

A team of researchers from several universities analyzed the data, starting when states adopted the new teacher evaluations incorporating student test scores. They looked not only at changes in scores but high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates.

Tougher teacher-evaluation systems can work, Petrilli said—but there was no political will to act on the results at the time of the reforms. Teachers’ unions resisted firing teachers who received poor results, and districts were unwilling or unable to pay great teachers more, he said.

At a time of acute teacher shortages, what school district is eager to fire teachers based on their students’ test scores?

The failed reforms were in large part a response to the demands of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top, which required states to adopt test-based evaluation to be eligible for a share of $4.35 billion in federal money. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised such teacher evaluations loudly and frequently.

As I wrote in my 2020 book SLAYING GOLIATH, test-based teacher evaluation was never tried before it was imposed on almost every state in the nation. It had no evidence to support its use. Many scholars and professional groups warned against it, but Duncan plunged forward, belittling anyone who dared to disparage his Big Reform.

Obama and Duncan found support in a 2011 study led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty, but his glowing predictions about the benefits of test-based evaluation didn’t pan out. His paper on value-added teacher assessment won him a front page story in the New York Times, a story on the PBS Newshour, and a laudatory mention in President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address. Chetty et al concluded that better teachers caused students to get higher test scores, to graduate more frequently, to earn more income over their lifetimes, and—for girls, to be less likely to have out-of-wedlock births. As one of the authors told the New York Times, the message of our study is that bad teachers should be fired sooner rather than later.

But despite the cheerleading of Arne Duncan and the seemingly definitive conclusions of Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff, value-added teacher evaluations failed.

How many good and great teachers left their profession because of this ill-fated “reform”?

The Orlando Sentinel editorial board published a statement denouncing the current zeal for censorship in schools and school libraries. (To learn about the history of book banning and censorship in American schools, read my book THe Language Police). The rising tide of book banning threatens freedom of thought, academic freedom, and common sense.

Banning and burning books is nothing new. What’s new are the targets: Books about race and racism.

In Tennessee, zealots want to get rid of a picture book by Ruby Bridges, who became the first Black student at an all-white New Orleans school when she was just 6 years old.

Among the supposedly objectionable material in “Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story” are photos that show white people holding signs that say, “We want segragation (sic),” and, “We don’t want to Integrate,” as well as another showing a young boy with a sign that reads, “We wont (sic) go to school with Negroes.”

These unacceptable images are real, historical photos illustrating a true story about a young Black girl breaking the barriers of racial segregation in the Deep South.

People of good will can make reasonable arguments about what should and should not be on public school reading lists and library shelves. Some material is too sexually explicit or too violent for some ages. Surely we can at least agree on that.

But the objections raised in Tennessee and other states, including Florida, are more about manipulating history than anything else.

In Tennessee, the objections to Ruby Bridges’ book, made by the far-right group Moms For Liberty, are objectively preposterous.

The Moms For Liberty, which has roots in Florida, told the Tennessee Education Department that “Ruby Bridges Goes to School” — as well as a book about Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington — run afoul of a new Tennessee law that restricts the way racism can be taught in public schools to ensure no one’s feelings get hurt…

Florida’s Legislature is hot on Tennessee’s heels. The Florida Department of Education handed down a muddled and confusing rule last summer that bans teaching Critical Race Theory. And Brevard County state Rep. Randy Fine has followed up with proposed law — House Bill 57 — that’s a virtual carbon copy of Tennessee’s.

The Tennessee experience with a picture book for kids provides just a taste of what Florida schools are in for should Fine’s bill passes….

Because, absurd as it might seem, Florida’s rapidly adopting the official view that racism is a relic of the past.

This is going to get worse before it gets better.

Carol Burris is executive director of the Network for Public Education.

She writes:

For the past four years, the Network for Public Education has collected and posted charter school scandals from across the United States on a special page of its website entitled Another Day Another Charter School Scandal which you can find here.

NPE has now turned that page into an interactive research tool, allowing you to find a collection of stories by state, by scandal type and by keyword. For example, if you want to search any published story on scandals associated with Success Academy, just type in Success Academy into the query box and ten stories pop up.

Looking for stories regarding charter theft or fraud? Use the drop down menu and 177 stories appear.

At the beginning of the month, we load up all of the stories we found during the prior month. Check back in early December to see November’s scandals. We have presently cataloged stories from 2019 to the present. We plan to add 2017 and 2018 to the research tool shortly. One thing we know from doing this work is that if it is another day, there is another charter school scandal-which is quite remarkable given that there are only about 7500 charter schools in the United States.

Stephen Sawchuk is a staff writer for Education Week. He wrote this article back in May, and I missed it. I think it’s one of the clearest, most balanced explanations of CRT that I have read.

Sawchuk writes:

Is “critical race theory” a way of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy, or a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people? Liberals and conservatives are in sharp disagreement. 

The topic has exploded in the public arena this spring—especially in K-12, where numerous state legislatures are debating bills seeking to ban its use in the classroom. 

In truth, the divides are not nearly as neat as they may seem. The events of the last decade have increased public awareness about things like housing segregation, the impacts of criminal justice policy in the 1990s, and the legacy of enslavement on Black Americans. But there is much less consensus on what the government’s role should be in righting these past wrongs. Add children and schooling into the mix and the debate becomes especially volatile.

School boards, superintendents, even principals and teachers are already facing questions about critical race theory, and there are significant disagreements even among experts about its precise definition as well as how its tenets should inform K-12 policy and practice. This explainer is meant only as a starting point to help educators grasp core aspects of the current debate.

Just what is critical race theory anyway? 

Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

The basic tenets of critical race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.

A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas.

Today, those same patterns of discrimination live on through facially race-blind policies, like single-family zoning that prevents the building of affordable housing in advantaged, majority-white neighborhoods and, thus, stymies racial desegregation efforts.

CRT also has ties to other intellectual currents, including the work of sociologists and literary theorists who studied links between political power, social organization, and language. And its ideas have since informed other fields, like the humanities, the social sciences, and teacher education.

This academic understanding of critical race theory differs from representation in recent popular books and, especially, from its portrayal by critics—often, though not exclusively, conservative Republicans. Critics charge that the theory leads to negative dynamics, such as a focus on group identity over universal, shared traits; divides people into “oppressed” and “oppressor” groups; and urges intolerance.

Thus, there is a good deal of confusion over what CRT means, as well as its relationship to other terms, like “anti-racism” and “social justice,” with which it is often conflated.

To an extent, the term “critical race theory” is now cited as the basis of all diversity and inclusion efforts regardless of how much it’s actually informed those programs. 

One conservative organization, the Heritage Foundation, recently attributed a whole host of issues to CRT, including the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, LGBTQ clubs in schools, diversity training in federal agencies and organizations, California’s recent ethnic studies model curriculum, the free-speech debate on college campuses, and alternatives to exclusionary discipline—such as the Promise program in Broward County, Fla., that some parents blame for the Parkland school shootings. “When followed to its logical conclusion, CRT is destructive and rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based,” the organization claimed.null

(A good parallel here is how popular ideas of the common core learning standards grew to encompass far more than what those standards said on paper.) 

Does critical race theory say all white people are racist? Isn’t that racist, too? 

The theory says that racism is part of everyday life, so people—white or nonwhite—who don’t intend to be racist can nevertheless make choices that fuel racism. 

Some critics claim that the theory advocates discriminating against white people in order to achieve equity. They mainly aim those accusations at theorists who advocate for policies that explicitly take race into account. (The writer Ibram X. Kendi, whose recent popular book How to Be An Antiracistsuggests that discrimination that creates equity can be considered anti-racist, is often cited in this context.)

Fundamentally, though, the disagreement springs from different conceptions of racism. CRT puts an emphasis on outcomes, not merely on individuals’ own beliefs, and it calls on these outcomes to be examined and rectified. Among lawyers, teachers, policymakers, and the general public, there are many disagreements about how precisely to do those things, and to what extent race should be explicitly appealed to or referred to in the process.

Here’s a helpful illustration to keep in mind in understanding this complex idea. In a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court school-assignment case on whether race could be a factor in maintaining diversity in K-12 schools, Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion famously concluded: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” But during oral arguments, then-justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: “It’s very hard for me to see how you can have a racial objective but a nonracial means to get there.”

All these different ideas grow out of longstanding, tenacious intellectual debates. Critical race theory emerged out of postmodernist thought, which tends to be skeptical of the idea of universal values, objective knowledge, individual merit, Enlightenment rationalism, and liberalism—tenets that conservatives tend to hold dear.

What does any of this have to do with K-12 education?

Scholars who study critical race theory in education look at how policies and practices in K-12 education contribute to persistent racial inequalities in education, and advocate for ways to change them. Among the topics they’ve studied: racially segregated schools, the underfunding of majority-Black and Latino school districts, disproportionate disciplining of Black students, barriers to gifted programs and selective-admission high schools, and curricula that reinforce racist ideas. 

Critical race theory is not a synonym for culturally relevant teaching, which emerged in the 1990s. This teaching approach seeks to affirm students’ ethnic and racial backgrounds and is intellectually rigorous. But it’s related in that one of its aims is to help students identify and critique the causes of social inequality in their own lives.null

Many educators support, to one degree or another, culturally relevant teaching and other strategies to make schools feel safe and supportive for Black students and other underserved populations. (Students of color make up the majority of school-aged children.) But they don’t necessarily identify these activities as CRT-related.

As one teacher-educator put it: “The way we usually see any of this in a classroom is: ‘Have I thought about how my Black kids feel? And made a space for them, so that they can be successful?’ That is the level I think it stays at, for most teachers.” Like others interviewed for this explainer, the teacher-educator did not want to be named out of fear of online harassment. 

An emerging subtext among some critics is that curricular excellence can’t coexist alongside culturally responsive teaching or anti-racist work. Their argument goes that efforts to change grading practices or make the curriculum less Eurocentricwill ultimately harm Black students, or hold them to a less high standard. 

As with CRT in general, its popular representation in schools has been far less nuanced. A recent poll by the advocacy group Parents Defending Education claimed some schools were teaching that “white people are inherently privileged, while Black and other people of color are inherently oppressed and victimized”; that “achieving racial justice and equality between racial groups requires discriminating against people based on their whiteness”; and that “the United States was founded on racism.”

Thus much of the current debate appears to spring not from the academic texts, but from fear among critics that students—especially white students—will be exposed to supposedly damaging or self-demoralizing ideas.

While some district officials have issued mission statements, resolutions, or spoken about changes in their policies using some of the discourse of CRT, it’s not clear to what degree educators are explicitly teaching the concepts, or even using curriculum materials or other methods that implicitly draw on them. For one thing, scholars say, much scholarship on CRT is written in academic language or published in journals not easily accessible to K-12 teachers.

What is going on with these proposals to ban critical race theory in schools? 

As of mid-May, legislation purporting to outlaw CRT in schools has passed in Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee and have been proposed in various other statehouses.

The bills are so vaguely written that it’s unclear what they will affirmatively cover. Could a teacher who wants to talk about a factual instance of state-sponsored racism—like the establishment of Jim Crow, the series of laws that prevented Black Americans from voting or holding office and separated them from white people in public spaces—be considered in violation of these laws?It’s also unclear whether these new bills are constitutional, or whether they impermissibly restrict free speech.It would be extremely difficult, in any case, to police what goes on inside hundreds of thousands of classrooms. But social studies educators fear that such laws could have a chilling effect on teachers who might self-censor their own lessons out of concern for parent or administrator complaints.

As English teacher Mike Stein told Chalkbeat Tennessee about the new law: “History teachers can not adequately teach about the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. English teachers will have to avoid teaching almost any text by an African American author because many of them mention racism to various extents.”

The laws could also become a tool to attack other pieces of the curriculum, including ethnic studies and “action civics”—an approach to civics education that asks students to research local civic problems and propose solutions.How is this related to other debates over what’s taught in the classroom amid K-12 culture wars?

The charge that schools are indoctrinating students in a harmful theory or political mindset is a longstanding one, historians note. CRT appears to be the latest salvo in this ongoing debate.

In the early and mid-20th century, the concern was about socialism or Marxism. The conservative American Legion, beginning in the 1930s, sought to rid schools of progressive-minded textbooks that encouraged students to consider economic inequality; two decades later the John Birch Society raised similar criticisms about school materials. As with CRT criticisms, the fear was that students would be somehow harmed by exposure to these ideas.

As the school-aged population became more diverse, these debates have been inflected through the lens of race and ethnic representation, including disagreements over multiculturalism and ethnic studies, the ongoing “canon wars” over which texts should make up the English curriculum, and the so-called “ebonics” debates over the status of Black vernacular English in schools.

In history, the debates have focused on the balance among patriotism and American exceptionalism, on one hand, and the country’s history of exclusion and violence towards Indigenous people and the enslavement of African Americans on the other—between its ideals and its practices. Those tensions led to the implosion of a 1994 attempt to set national history standards.

A current example that has fueled much of the recent round of CRT criticism is the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which sought to put the history and effects of enslavement—as well as Black Americans’ contributions to democratic reforms—at the center of American history.

The culture wars are always, at some level, battled out within schools, historians say.

“It’s because they’re nervous about broad social things, but they’re talking in the language of school and school curriculum,” said one historian of education. “That’s the vocabulary, but the actual grammar is anxiety about shifting social power relations.”