FIRST ON FOX: An anti-critical race theory (CRT) group is providing parents with tools to track equity consultants, warning that families face a formidable and well-funded opponent in the "woke industrial complex."
Launched this week, the "Consultant Report Card" details findings from thousands of pages of public records requests that were reviewed by Parents Defending Education (PDE).
So far, PDE has uncovered $19,575,169.45 worth of contracts with 249 documented in 29 states and 95 districts. The "report" card offers an initial look at the connections and business interests behind one of the nation's most hot-button issues. The organization identified 122 consultants and contractors across the country. It notes that despite the seemingly large numbers, their chest of information is just a "drop in the bucket."
Parents and teachers have long complained about getting blindsided by top-down "equity" pushes that utilize obscure theory and external consultants. The "Consultant Report Card" offers a searchable database with suggested keywords and case studies of purportedly "woke" influences.
"We’ve learned that parents and students face a well-oiled and well-financed juggernaut that could be called the ‘woke-ed machine,’" reads a statement from PDE.
"With stealth operations and no parental input this machine is turning our schools into factories of ideological conformity, using race, gender and sexuality as a cudgel to divide, shame and confuse our children. Behind this are powerful ideological forces–partisan nonprofits; school educrats, activist teachers, superintendents and school boards; 'progressive' politicians and regulators at the state and federal level–whose goal is to enshrine their indoctrination by insinuating the doctrine into not just school curricula but local, state and federal regulations and policies."
The issue has captured national headlines for months as school board meetings exploded with frustration from parents. It became even more prominent when PDE reported that Attorney General Merrick Garland's son-in-law co-founded one of the top education consultancies, Panorama Education. Many noted the potential conflict of interest for Garland, whose department is investigating efforts to challenge left-leaning ideas like those promoted by Panorama.
Garland has maintained that he's not interested in infringing on First Amendment rights, but has raised concerns by using vague language like "intimidation" to describe the probe's target. The nationwide investigation will presumably impact school districts that work or have worked with Panorama.
The company has boasted about its large footprint, stating that it's provided services to 1,500 school systems. PDE's list of top 10 contractors also shows Panorama receiving the most money ($5,200,684.50), followed by the National Equity Project ($2,879,655) and the Pacific Educational Group ($1,971,673.45). A previous report similarly showed that Panorama had garnered $27 million in contracts between 2017 and 2020.
The new database comes just as Garland appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, where he declined to answer questions about the apparent conflict of interest. Garland was asked if he was aware of the federal regulations related to upholding the impartiality of executive branch employees.
"I am very familiar with it," Garland responded. "And I want to be clear once again that there is nothing in this memorandum which has any effect on the kinds of curriculums that are taught or the ability of parents to complain."
‘Whatever you call it, it’s big money.’
PDE, partly led by former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani, has been at the forefront of digging for information on so-called "woke" influences seeping into school curricula and teacher trainings across the U.S.
Those included things like teachings on systemic racism, warnings about micro-aggressions and exercises finding privilege or oppression within one's identity. Perhaps the most cited example is a math teaching guide, which suggested White supremacy. Cited in both Oregon and California, the program was supported by a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has also donated millions to controversial author Ibram Kendi, whose books are often found in so-called "equity" programs.
PDE's statement added that "[s]ome people call the network we have documented the ‘Woke-Industrial Complex.’ Others call it the ‘diversity industrial complex.’ Whatever you call it, it’s big money."
Nomani has raised concern about another tech giant, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) contributed to a $16 million investment to Panorama's efforts expanding social-emotional learning. With the help of CZI, a slew of equity and capital firms have bolstered Panorama's bank account. In September, the company announced a $60 million investment from General Atlantic, Owl Ventures, Tao Capital Partners, Uncork Capital and Emerson Collective.
Another concern about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, raised by Nomani, is that the company recently attracted scrutiny for allegedly knowing about, but not acting to prevent the adverse effects of its algorithms. Facebook similarly encountered criticism in 2012 when news surfaced that it manipulated news feeds to observe if "exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviours," according to BBC.
It's worth noting that CZI and Facebook are separate entities. Facebook previously referred Fox News to CZI, which did not respond to a request for comment earlier this month.
Ideas like CRT have also received backing from school administrators, teachers, academics and pundits on the left. Proponents generally argue that CRT and related ideas help uncover systemic biases that hurt minorities.
Angela Onwuachi-Willig, an expert on CRT at Boston University School of Law, told the Boston Globe that critical race theory helped people understand the complexity of race — beyond "simple" narratives that they may have been taught.
"Racism is not extraordinary," she continued. "Race and racism are basically baked into everything we do in our society. It’s embedded in our institutions. It’s embedded in our minds and hearts."
While some parents have publicly voiced support for equity materials, many worry about the impact they'll have on still-developing minds at the elementary and secondary school level. More specifically, "Social and emotional learning" (SEL) and "culturally responsive" training have become seemingly innocuous buzzwords in education, but critics have worried that they serve as conduits for left-wing ideas about race and identity.
PDE has sounded the alarm about Panorama's SEL monitoring in her home county. As Fox News previously noted, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) contracted with Panorama to conduct a SEL screener for children in the district.
It's unclear how exactly the data will be utilized, but various statements from the school district indicate that it could raise privacy concerns.
For example a portion of FCPS' request for proposal (RFP) claimed "schools operate as the de facto mental health provider in communities throughout the U.S. As a result, it is essential that school staff are able to appropriately and proactively identify social-emotional barriers to students' ability to access the academic curriculum." According to FCPS, the data is primarily intended for "[s]chool administrators, school psychologists, school social workers, and school counselors."
Additional language in the contract's request for proposal identifies the would-be contractor as "school officials of the School Board" for the "purposes of receiving access to FCPS Confidential Student Records."
Fox Business' Jessica Chasmar contributed to this report.