‘Parents first’ school board bids should be a wake-up call

This article was published 9 months ago.

Editorial from the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board

In dozens of school board races statewide, conservative candidates ran on a “parents first” platform that seeks to ban the teaching of America’s history of racism, referred to as “critical race theory,” and rein in government control over education. They had limited success on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Recruited and funded by conservative groups, these candidates tapped into the frustration of parents fed up with underwhelming academic performance, further magnified by the pandemic.

Though they claimed to be running to give parents a greater voice in local school politics to promote better academic results, many espoused divisive agendas.

The “parents first,” or parental rights, agenda is based on the belief that parents should have more say in educational policies, but what they appear to really want are educational policies that align with their conservative, often religious values. Topping the list of their grievances are the teaching of ethnic studies and sex education, and the masking orders and school closures during the pandemic. 

In some cases, the “parents first” candidates ran for open seats. But they also challenged incumbents.

In many ways, the mass influx of these conservative candidates groomed by political groups reflects a battle for the soul of public education.

Undoubtedly, students’ academic performance is alarming. How best to change the trajectory of these struggling students is something educational leaders are still discussing. 

Parents’ voices are key in these discussions, but ensuring that all parents are adequately represented is trickier if conservative parents are overrepresented in those discussions. 

And there’s a lot at stake. Not just the topics that are taught — or not — in the classroom, but the billions spent on education. Good oversight of these funds by school board members is critical to ensuring that these students receive targeted instruction as intended by the Legislature.

Parents becoming more involved in their children’s education is a healthy trend — but not if they only represent a narrow view of education.

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