The key to evaluating curriculum transparency legislation

Written by Derek Monson

January 26, 2022

Beginning this week, the Utah Legislature is considering proposed curriculum transparency legislation. The consistent position of Sutherland Institute on such legislation has been – and continues to be – that good policy should strengthen the parent-teacher partnership.

As lawmakers scrutinize curriculum transparency legislation, it is a good time to go deeper to describe the parent-teacher partnership, and the criteria that the partnership suggests for evaluating curriculum transparency legislation.

The parent-teacher partnership is the place where the desires and interests of two institutions meet: the family and public education. Public policy should respect both institutions, and both have rights and responsibilities that policy should uphold and reinforce.

Educators have a responsibility to be open and transparent in what they are teaching children. This requires some effort on the part of teachers, and sound policy will support them in those efforts. Teachers also deserve professional respect in the form that curriculum transparency takes. The negative unintended consequences of punitive or overly burdensome approaches will undermine the parent-teacher partnership and should be avoided.

Parents have a responsibility to be informed about and engaged in what their children are learning in school. This requires an investment of time from parents. Public policy should respect the fact that parents have equally important responsibilities in other areas of family life by making it as easy as possible for them to become informed and engaged. Policy approaches that do not empower parents with readily accessible information and opportunities for their voices to be heard, but which still expect parents to become informed and engaged in student learning, diminish the parent-teacher partnership.

The importance of the parent-teacher partnership suggests, as a starting point, three criteria for evaluating curriculum transparency legislation:

  • Commonsense solutions – The results of curriculum transparency legislation should hew closely to what the average Utahn believes is already happening (even if it isn’t) or should be happening. This includes age-appropriateness and widely accepted community standards.
  • Empowering parents – Curriculum transparency legislation should give parents the opportunity to have their voices heard and their values reflected in public school curriculum. It should also give parents accessible and current information about what their students will be taught in the classroom.
  • Respecting teachers – Curriculum transparency legislation should not sideline educators. It should ask them to participate and give them a seat at the table. What it asks of teachers should respect and strengthen their standing as professionals and should not involve punitive or excessively burdensome measures.

In summary, rather than creating division through an “us versus them” approach, sound curriculum transparency legislation will unify parents and teachers around improving the learning experience and outcomes of students. Accomplishing unity and a reinvigorated parent-teacher partnership may require an incremental approach to reform – the principle of political and policy prudence can offer guidance to this specific case.

Whether curriculum transparency advances in small steps or large leaps, it will best accomplish its goals by evaluating proposals through the non-politicized lens of the parent-teacher partnership: Education without engaged parents is ineffective; education without professional educators is unsustainable. Both parents and educators are required for a student to thrive. Favoring one while minimizing the other – in either direction – is a one-step-forward, two-steps-back approach.

As lawmakers begin to examine curriculum transparency proposals in earnest, they will do the most good for parents, teachers, and especially students, by prioritizing this partnership and seeking to strengthen it.

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