As a teacher for over 30 years, I experienced firsthand the transition from textbooks to technology. Some of these changes have strengthened the education experience for both teachers and students, but they have also made it more difficult for parents to know what is being taught in the classroom. That’s why I support Arizona Senate Bill 1211, a measure that adds much-needed transparency to K-12 schools.
It is important that, as educators, we continue to respect parents’ need—and right—to be involved in the academic lives of their children by being open and transparent with the materials we use. In this way, parents can better support children in their learning and rest assured knowing they are aware of and comfortable with the subject matter material. Unfortunately today, whether intentionally or not, public school districts—and schools themselves—are keeping parents in the dark when it comes to what their children are learning.
In years past, parents and community members could easily access curriculum resources, including textbooks, that were displayed in a district office over a period of time for parents and the public to see, read, and offer comments on. Additionally, students received physical texts that they used both at home and school, giving parents an additional opportunity to peruse instructional materials.
With the widespread availability and use of online materials, curriculum resources are no longer previewed by parents prior to use. Instead, districts purchase online subscriptions, share online curricula such as Vail’s Beyond Textbooks—which are used in many Arizona schools—and allow teachers to purchase online lesson plans. This means that much of the curriculum is not open to parents and, as the stories of many frustrated and angry parents have demonstrated, is only discovered when a brave student brings it to their attention. Of course, by then it’s too late for parents to prevent an offensive text from being used by students. Even the district may not have assessed the entirety of a subscription.
Recently, in my local district, a novel containing offensive sexual material was brought to my attention by students who instinctively knew this was not appropriate for school. When questioned, the district said the book had gone through a review and approval process. The novel had been listed—along with two other books—as a possible upcoming text. Parents would have had to obtain and read all three books to know the possible content their children would read. And, once the specific text was chosen, parents were not notified. Students read the book in class, online, but parents were unaware.
These days, it’s not uncommon for some teachers and politicians to assert that parents should not be involved in what their children’s schools are teaching. But this concept flies in the face of the long-held American tradition of parents being welcomed—even expected—to participate in all aspects of their children’s education. The “closed curricula” now common in schools are an affront to parents who care about how their kids are educated.
Today’s parents are just as intensely interested and concerned about what their children are learning as previous generations. That’s why SB 1211 is necessary to bring the same accountability to today’s teaching resources as schools have provided in previous years.
Online instructional resources have streamlined teachers’ professional lives, but technology has also made it possible to easily provide sources and samples of curricula to parents. Since teachers have made this transition to technology in all aspects of instruction and lesson planning, making sources easily available to the public as part of the lesson planning process is feasible. Additionally, districts can support teachers in this effort by planning and modeling an efficient and acceptable method for posting.
This should be the norm moving forward, and SB 1211 would ensure that it is. Parents have a right to be involved in their children’s education, and lawmakers should act swiftly to defend this right.
Peggy Gibson is a retired educator who taught in the Arizona school system for over three decades.