The civics of curriculum transparency

Written by Derek Monson

February 14, 2022

Curriculum transparency, done right, strengthens the parent-teacher partnership in the education of children. It empowers parents with opportunities to have their voices heard and their values reflected in public school curriculum. It respects teachers by asking them to participate, without being overly burdensome, and giving them a seat at the table. It takes a commonsense approach to problems.

What does that mean for how curriculum transparency policy decisions are made and implemented? It means that there are roles for states, districts and schools alike. The debate should not be an ideological one, but one of commonsense, practical governing wisdom.

The Utah Constitution gives the state Legislature clear governing authority in public education. Article III states that “the Legislature shall make laws for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools.” Those laws recognize the basic rights and duties of parents in education. Utah law states, in one place, that “parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children,” and in another, “parents retain the fundamental right and duty to exercise primary control over the … education of their children.” For these rights and responsibilities of parents to be real in practice, not just on paper, an adequate level of parent empowerment is required.

Requiring districts and charter schools to maintain a transparent process for recommending and adopting curriculum seems a commonsense application of the Legislature’s constitutional duty to maintain a system of public education. Districts and charter schools, however, are the level of government closest to the people in public education. This suggests that they ought to play a primary role in the creation and implementation of curriculum transparency policy.

Applying this civics lens to curriculum transparency is one way to better understand which approaches strengthen the parent-teacher partnership. One legislative proposal – SB 114 – offers a useful example.

The bill requires districts and charter schools that adopt or approve instructional materials (aka curriculum) to have a process for recommending those materials to the district or charter school board that involves parents and educators. It also requires districts and charter schools to have a policy in place – the details of which are determined by the district or charter – to give teachers guidelines for their use of supplemental materials that aren’t approved by the district or charter school board.

In other words, the legislation fulfills the Legislature’s constitutional duty in public education. It also respects the principle of local control in education by ensuring essential policy decisions are local ones made in school board meetings with involvement from parents and educators on the ground.

The legislation empowers parents by requiring that they be included and given opportunity to voice their views in the curriculum transparency process. It respects teachers by requiring that they be included in the curriculum transparency process and by ensuring that they have the professional protection offered by district or charter-level guidelines in the selection of supplemental materials. It takes a commonsense approach to curriculum transparency policy by ensuring transparency statewide while leaving key decisions to school districts and charter schools.

Because of these features in SB 114, it is an approach to curriculum transparency that will strengthen the parent-teacher partnership.

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