Is CRT showing up in Utah public schools?

Written by Derek Monson

September 23, 2021

Previous Sutherland Institute blog posts have looked at the words of critical race theorists to determine what CRT is and understand its core concepts. After gaining a deep understanding of the basics, it then makes sense to ask whether CRT is in public schools.

CRT’s influence in public schools and/or classroom instruction has been a matter of debate. On one hand, there are claims – based on anecdotal reports – that CRT is showing up in classroom instruction. On the other hand, there are claims – based on state academic standards – that CRT is not in Utah schools.

Both claims likely contain truth. The core concepts of CRT – race as social construction, structural/institutional racism, implicit bias, microaggressions, white privilege and intersectionality – can make their way into classroom materials or instruction without being included in state academic standards. This is because standards are decided by the Utah State Board of Education, while curriculum decisions are made by local school districts and actual classroom material and instruction are determined by individual teachers. As such, CRT concepts could be introduced into schools in multiple ways (via district or individual teacher decisions) outside of state standards.

This means that while state academic standards are an important data point for looking at whether and how CRT is in public schools, the standards by themselves are insufficient to answer the question. This is borne out by the anecdotal reports.

For example, an individual who attended a training given to public school leaders and educators earlier this year by the director of equity, diversity and inclusion at the State Board of Education shared the slides from that training with Sutherland Institute. The topics of discussion and instruction included several core concepts of CRT: white privilege, microaggressions, intersectionality and systemic racism.

A second example comes from a local school district. Murray School District achieved some notoriety earlier this year when an in-class book reading led to controversy about the district’s Equity Book Bundle program, which was later temporarily suspended. The program offers a book list “intended as a quick resource for teachers wanting to teach about diversity,” according to the school district.

As highlighted by a local chapter of the PTA in the district, the original book list included selections such as Antiracist Baby, authored by nationally known race scholar Ibram X. Kendi. The book begins to introduce ideas like structural racism in language intended for children (e.g., “point at policies as the problem, not the people … policies don’t always grant equal access”).

These examples illustrate how concepts of CRT have potentially entered classroom instruction through training applied in the classroom, or materials selected for daily instruction – despite those concepts not being mentioned in state academic standards.

But these examples are not definitive evidence that concepts of CRT are, in fact, being taught by all Utah teachers. In truth, conclusive and objective evidence of CRT in the classroom has yet to materialize.

Given the sheer number and geographic diversity of anecdotal parent reports that CRT concepts are part of classroom instruction, it seems reasonable to conclude that those ideas are being used in at least some Utah public school classrooms. However, it must also be noted that some of these parent reports reference ideas in classroom instruction that are plainly not related to CRT (e.g., stories teaching young children about pronouns and gender identity).

Based on the evidence, the answer to the question “Is CRT in Utah’s public schools?” will remain a subject of legitimate debate and disagreement. But there are a few things that we can reasonably conclude:

  1. State academic standards are insufficient to ensure CRT is not in Utah’s public schools,
  2. The most likely means by which the core concepts of CRT could enter classroom instruction are state or district trainings and individual teacher selection of classroom materials, and
  3. Parents’ reports of CRT ideas in classroom instruction, while varied in nature, seem sufficient in number to reasonably believe that the core concepts of CRT are being used in at least some public school classrooms.

These conclusions do not point to what to do as a matter of policy. But as Sutherland has argued, strong curriculum transparency, education choice and civics education reform represent a robust policy approach. Only through more rigorous history and civics standards and curriculum, combined with informed and empowered parents, will we be able to truly resolve the debate about what should and what is being taught in Utah schools.

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