Faced with a question about legislation clarifying that Colorado parents have a right to transparency when it comes to what their children are taught, the head of Colorado’s largest teachers union called the discussion a “distraction” and waved it off by saying, “There’s simply not a problem to be solved here.”
It’s hard to imagine a response that could more clearly demonstrate just how out of touch unions and their allies are with Colorado families.
Let’s get a couple things straight up front. First, House Bill 1066, about which Colorado Education Association (CEA) President Amie Baca-Oehlert made her comments, is not a perfect solution to the K-12 curriculum transparency problem. The requirement to post lists of all materials on a website could be cumbersome for schools, and there is some question about whether these lists will be interpretable for the average parent.
A lighter approach might be to do away with the posting requirements and simply clarify that parents have a right—at any time, for any reason—to request access to various educational materials. Obviously, there could be some exclusions from that list, like assessments or quizzes that could pose a risk of opening the door for cheaters.
But regardless of the specific policy solution under consideration, the underlying assertion that parents have a right to know what’s happening in their children’s classrooms remains valid. The fact that an organization representing tens of thousands of teachers statewide disagrees with this very simple, obvious truth should be deeply concerning to just about everyone in Colorado.
If there were already full academic and curricular transparency in Colorado schools, there would clearly be no need for legislation on this topic. And one would assume that CEA and its allies would not be mounting quite so vociferous an opposition campaign if said legislation did nothing more than codify current practice.
And yet, here we are.
The truth is that parents are too often shut out of the details of what is taught during the many hours their children spend at school each week. Is it a universal problem at every school? Probably not. But it is common enough to have merited a discussion both in Colorado and across the nation, and it is important enough to have influenced elections ranging from local to statewide. It is real, and it is not going away any time soon.
Cutting parents off from information about what is being taught cripples their ability to make good choices and be good partners in their children’s education. Without that information, how are parents to decide which schools offer the best programs, curricula, and environments for their unique students? How are they to help reinforce lessons learned at school without knowing what exactly those lessons entail? What recourse do they have if they believe something is said, shown, or taught that is inappropriate, inaccurate, or distressing to their students?
CEA’s president says that the conversation about transparency in schools is “…a massive distraction for our educators from doing what they need to be doing right now, which is focusing on meeting the needs of our students.”
It’s odd to say that a conversation about meeting needs of students—which, by necessity, must include a discussion about what is taught—is a distraction from the work of meeting the needs of students. It’s even odder for CEA to position itself as a white knight given that its affiliates in Colorado and its national parent organization have so often acted as impediments to in-person learning despite evidence of massive learning loss following the pandemic.
More important than those nuggets of cognitive dissonance, though, is the fact that CEA appears to be completely unaware of its misalignment with Coloradans on this issue. Close to 80 percent of Colorado voters believe parents should have a say in what schools teach. Only four percent said they should have no say.
Those numbers illustrate a clear mandate to give parents a voice in education. Add it is an obvious truth that they cannot have such a voice if they are not even aware of what is being taught.
Meanwhile, nearly 30,000 students have left Colorado’s public education system since the start of the pandemic, and the number of students homeschooled in the state has roughly doubled. Many thousands more have opted for public charter schools or other public schools of choice. And still others have flocked to private schools.
It is difficult to get a read on specific reasons why each family makes a given educational choice. But it is likely not a coincidence that they tend to choose schools that, as a matter of both marketing necessity and principle, are typically much more transparent about what and how they teach. At most schools of choice, the specifics of their curricula are selling points, not liabilities.
One wonders whether CEA’s decision to ignore these numbers and instead assert that parents ought to butt out of the business of education is at least partially responsible for the fact that polls also find plummeting support for teachers unions in Colorado. Voters seem to believe, sensibly, that blind trust in a taxpayer-funded enterprise that receives about $14 billion in total public revenue annually is problematic.
The beauty of transparency is that it does not discriminate. It applies equally to left- and right-leaning educational materials. It applies equally to charter schools, traditional public schools, and all other public schools. It empowers parents of all types, beliefs, and backgrounds to have a voice in their children’s education and to make the best possible choices using the best possible information.
Only a vampire hides from the sun. And only an organization that has lost touch with those it is supposed to serve would fail to acknowledge such an obvious problem and come to the table as a willing partner in finding a solution.
Ross Izard is an education policy analyst and government relations professional. He founded Xiphos Strategies, where he works with a variety of clients on education and other policy issues.
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