States Tracker

Map: Where Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack

By Sarah Schwartz — June 11, 2021 | Updated: January 30, 2023 4 min read
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Republican state lawmakers continued their crusade against “critical race theory” through the 2022 legislative session, passing new legislation in Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and other states that further regulates how the nation’s teachers can discuss racism, sexism, and issues of systemic inequality in the classroom.

The trend has proved to be an ongoing minefield for teachers and school districts, some of whom have already faced challenges to lessons and professional development courses in states where these laws have passed.

In Oklahoma, for example, the state board of education downgraded the accreditation for two school districts that it claimed violated the state’s law targeting critical race theory. In July, a Tennessee parent group sued local and state education leaders over a curriculum it claims the state law prohibits.

These laws and their consequences are just one manifestation of the increased scrutiny schools are facing in teaching about any issues that could be deemed controversial. Even in states without CRT legislation, school boards and parent groups have challenged curriculum choices, sought to remove library books, and called for teachers to take down flags or banners supporting social justice causes.

Since January 2021, 44 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis. Eighteen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues.

Throughout the 2021 legislative session, most of these bills were centered on a list of prohibited “divisive concepts.” This list has its origins in a September 2020 executive order signed by then-President Donald Trump, which banned certain types of diversity training in federal agencies. (For more on the origins of this state legislative movement, see this story.)

The order, which has since been revoked by President Joe Biden, prohibited trainings that promoted certain ideas—for example, that one race or sex is inherently better than another, that all people of a certain race have unconscious bias, or that the United States is a fundamentally racist or sexist country.

It was written in response to the anti-racism and anti-bias trainings that many workplaces—including schools—began after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Pundits, advocacy groups, and parents—mostly conservative, but some across the political spectrum—fiercely opposed these exercises, along with other efforts schools were making to diversify curricula and materials. They argued that schools were placing too much of a focus on race, causing white children to feel guilty, and overemphasizing the dark, difficult chapters of American history at the expense of fostering patriotism. They labeled these kinds of activities “critical race theory.”

The term refers to a decades-old academic theory that holds that racism is systemic, perpetrated by structural forces rather than individual acts of bias. But over the past two years, the phrase has been warped from its original meaning, used by opponents to refer to anything that makes race or gender salient in conversations about history, current events, or literature.

Several of the state bills proposed in the 2021 legislative session describe Trump’s list of “divisive concepts” as critical race theory, even though scholars of the framework maintain that it doesn’t teach that certain races are better than others, or that individuals are inherently racist.

With this fuzziness around terminology, teachers and school leaders in states where these laws have passed have reported widespread confusion about what kind of instruction is and is not allowed. For example, while many proponents of these laws claim that they shouldn’t curtail discussions of events in U.S. history, one parent group in Tennessee invoked the state’s law in attempts to pull a book about the civil rights movement.

Meanwhile, some of the laws passed during the 2021 legislative session have already faced legal challenges. Lawsuits have been filed in Oklahoma and New Hampshire claiming that the laws deprive teachers of free-speech and equal protection rights. See the table below for more information on some of the measures and variations from state to state.

Download the Data

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How to Cite This Page

Map: Where Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack (2021, June 11). Education Week. Retrieved Month Day, Year from http://www.edweek.org/leadership/map-where-critical-race-theory-is-under-attack/2021/06

Visualizations by Emma Patti Harris and Eesha Pendharkar

For media or research inquiries about this page, contact library@educationweek.org.

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