“What did you do at school today?”
It’s an age-old question to which nearly every child replies, “Nothing.” This exchange is so common that it has become something of an inside joke among parents.
Now imagine for a moment if you posed the same question to your child’s local public school teacher and were met with a similar reluctance to share.
Not so funny, right?
And yet, this is the experience for far too many Colorado parents who deserve to know what is being taught in their children’s classrooms. A new bill in the legislature, HB22-1066 from state Rep. Tim Geitner, R-Falcon, aims to take an important step toward correcting that problem.
It should be a simple thing for parents to review materials used to educate their children. After all, public schools are funded by public tax dollars. The lessons teachers plan, the books and online resources they use and the instruction they offer are all paid for by tax dollars. Even more importantly, as parents, they are ultimately responsible for their children’s education.
One would expect that these public materials would, at the very least, be available for viewing. Too often, though, they are not. And even when they are, access is often gated behind systems and processes too complex and intimidating for busy parents to navigate. Families have enough to worry about without having to jump through hoops for basic information.
We live in a state that prizes transparency in education and in government. Parents can attend school board meetings because the times and locations of those meetings must be publicly posted. They can review district documents through online portals or by requesting them through the Colorado Open Records Act. Even collective bargaining agreements between unions and school districts must be posted online.
Yet, parental access to educational programming is archaic and needs to be brought into the information age. No parent should be told that they cannot see what their sixth-grader is going to learn tomorrow.
We entrust our children to our chosen schools for six, seven or even more hours per day. We trust the teachers who staff those schools to teach our children the skills and knowledge they need to grow into productive, successful members of society. We trust them to act as our partners when it comes to helping our children to be good critical thinkers who can gather facts, form their own opinions, and find their own way in a complex world.
Trust, though, is a funny thing. It does not — and cannot — exist in the absence of transparency. It should be no wonder, then, that so many parents have taken an interest in reviewing curricula and all materials used to educate their children. And it is past time for Colorado to ensure they have that right.
Rep. Geitner’s bill would take the first step on this important road toward strengthening trust between parents and schools by simply requiring that schools make a list of their written materials and electronic resources available online. The legislation also makes it clear that at a parent’s request the school must provide a copy of items on the list.
The bill does not take aim at any particular curricula or teaching approach. It does not seek to dictate what schools should or should not teach, which is the purview of local education providers. It does not tell parents what they should or should not deem acceptable. Those decisions must be left to parents themselves, who should be trusted to make the right decisions for their children based on their own beliefs and values.
It does, however, seek to bring relief to frustrated parents across the state. These parents come from diverse political backgrounds, cultures, and geographic areas. They may have little in common with one another beyond the simple fact that they are parents. Yet, all of them have the right to know what is being taught in their schools so they can make informed decisions.
House Bill 1066 promotes accountability to taxpayers and parents alike. It represents a logical and necessary extension of Colorado’s long-held belief in open government. And it does so without encroaching upon local control or the ability of school districts to choose, in conjunction with their communities, what and how to teach.
Transparency alone cannot solve every issue, but it is a good start. And if this simple step toward transparency can help ensure that no parent ever receives a “No, we can’t show you” when a parent asks their child’s teacher what they did in school today, it’s worthy of consideration.
Pam Benigno directs the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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