Education Companies Swept Up in Idaho Panel’s Search for ‘Indoctrination’ in Learning Materials

Staff Writer

A task force assembled by Idaho’s Republican lieutenant governor has objected to the work of two well-known education companies among a long list of materials it says are promoting the “indoctrination” of students on issues of race and gender.

Both AVID, a nonprofit professional development provider, and EL Education, a nonprofit curriculum provider, were included in a list of examples published last week. The task force said the materials were gathered from district websites, parent submissions, and public records requests.

Members took issue with AVID and EL Education’s statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the anti-racist resources they offer teachers.

Idaho’s State Board of Education quickly rebuked the task force’s claims, saying in a statement that the board found no evidence of indoctrination in the state’s schools.

But the situation shows the difficult position education companies could find themselves in.

Many companies in the K-12 market have seen demand rise for curriculum and other products that address issues of racial equity and inclusion. Teachers are seeking out resources that help them discuss current events, such as the killing of George Floyd and protests over police conduct, as well as broader explorations of the history of racial discrimination in the United States.

At the same time, Republican state lawmakers are pushing back against new approaches to addressing racism, sexism, and issues of equality and justice in the classroom.

An Education Week analysis found that 26 states have introduced bills this year that would limit how teachers can discuss those topics, or restrict teaching critical race theory — a decades-old academic concept that sees racism as a social construct, embedded in legal systems and policies.

In Idaho, state lawmakers approved a measure signed into law by Republican Gov. Brad Little that prohibits funding schools that teach students that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin is “inherently superior or inferior.”

In a statement, EL Education defended its focus on diversity, saying there are broad benefits to students receiving access to an inclusive curriculum.

“The science of learning and development tells us that students who have a sense of belonging in school learn more,” EL Education spokesperson Alexandra Fenwick-Moore said in an email. “Our curriculum strives to ensure that students see themselves reflected in the content.”

New District Demands

AVID and EL Education are far from the only education companies prioritizing equity and taking a public stand against systemic racism.

In an EdWeek Market Brief survey conducted in May, nearly half of the 232 participating education company officials (49 percent) said their organizations had taken a public stand on issues of systemic racism, an increase from 31 percent in the fall. And 49 percent said they had reassessed their product offerings to look for areas of explicit or implicit bias.

The change appears to be driven by district demand. Forty-six percent of company officials surveyed said they have fielded questions from their existing and prospective district clients about how their products account for or serve diverse student populations. In October, just 22 percent said the same.

Nine percent of the businesses surveyed they had specifically lost a sale, or a customer relationship, because their products did not foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, up from 4 percent last fall.

Impact of Task Force Unclear

The 16-member Idaho task force, which includes state Rep. Priscilla Giddings, was launched by Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in April to “protect our young people from the scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism, and Marxism,” according to a press release.

Along with screenshots of EL Education and AVID materials, the group’s list of concerning materials included everything from specific assignments to a job description for an equity team leader in Boise School District to a copy of the state’s required teaching certification standards with the term “culturally responsive” underlined to highlight its frequency.

It’s unclear how much power the group will have in potentially changing the state’s education policy. The State Department of Education was not invited to participate, a spokesperson said, but they are “watching and listening.”

McGeachin, who is currently running for governor, has found herself at odds with state leadership before. In May, Gov. Little accused her of abusing her power for a “self-serving political stunt” after she put in place a mask-mandate prohibition while Little, who had supported masks as a COVID-era health measure, was out of town.

Any recommendations the task force makes to state officials or the legislature will be made public, said Jordan Watts, chief of staff for McGeachin.

Neither EL Education nor AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) have backed away from their equity work in response.

Lynn Kepp, a spokesperson for AVID, said the company’s work is unrelated to what the Idaho task force is trying to find because they don’t provide classroom curriculum. They offer professional learning that help educators prepare students for college or careers after high school.

“We have 77 optional offerings that school and district leaders can choose from to find the right fit for their educators,” Kepp said in an email. “The materials included in the task force’s list would not appear in a classroom but rather in voluntary professional learning courses.”

When asked for their response, EL Education released a statement detailing the high ratings their curriculum has received from independent reviewers and evaluators, including an “all green” in every category from reviewer EdReports. The company has worked with schools in every state for more than 28 years, the statement said.

“All students need an education that equips them to grow up and thrive in jobs and communities with people who may have different backgrounds,” the statement said. “EL Education is proud of our highly celebrated curriculum.

“Students engage in meaningful learning about key topics, including the history and cultures that have contributed to our current strength and our nation’s ability to thrive in the future.”

Photo of Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin by John Roark /The Idaho Post-Register via AP.

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