Too little transparency or parent engagement?

May 29, 2024

Many in the education community call for more funding to improve public schools, even though it’s unclear whether increasing spending in public education amounts to improved outcomes. Clearly schools need funding, but exactly how much is required and how to best spend it for a high-quality education is uncertain. 

However, research shows that family and parent involvement in education has known and clear impacts on student achievement, behavior, motivation and more.  

Between the two – asking for more money or getting families to change – the former is a simpler policy lift for lawmakers, which may explain why it gets more airtime. 

But public policy should not abandon efforts that could help parents get involved. One way is to incentivize more teachers to create user-friendly curriculum transparency – the type parents are inclined to use to become partners with teachers. 

Is there a parent involvement gap? 

It’s worth asking – is there sufficient parent involvement in public schools? If teachers’ perspective on the question is a good measure, then the answer is no, according to an April 2024 Pew Research survey.  

Most teachers see parents’ involvement as insufficient, with 79% saying parents do too little to hold children accountable for misbehavior, 68% saying parents do too little to help with homework, and 63% saying parents do too little to ensure their child’s attendance.  

When taken to extremes, parent involvement can disrupt a child’s education: Constantly interfering by criticizing the teacher or seeking parental control of curricular decisions for an entire classroom are unreasonable approaches. 

Luckily, according to the survey, very small proportions of parents contact teachers extremely often or often at all to express satisfaction or disagreement with what is being taught. In fact, nearly 75% said parents rarely or never reach out to express disagreement with what they have taught, and only 5% did so frequently.  

Basically, not only does this data suggest that parent involvement tends not to tip into the unreasonable category, but also that few parents may be contacting teachers much at all. 

Is user-friendly information a barrier to parent involvement? 

Why aren’t parents doing more? It is a complex issue. According to a review of research, some of the barriers include parents’ education, lack of knowledge about curriculum, limited time or transportation, family structure, culture, language, parent beliefs, parent experience with education, and teacher demands or attitudes.  

Teacher communication can help parents get involved. One 2020 survey showed that most parents and teachers felt that communication was clear and the right amount. The highest share of both parents and teachers said that “student achievement” was the most important thing to communicate to parents (think report cards, which are extremely common). The second most important thing to be communicated was “curriculum.” In fact, more parents than teachers reported thinking curriculum was the most important thing to share with them.  

At the same time, many Utah teachers feel they are already transparent with parents via emails, newsletters, websites and other platforms. A few years ago the Utah State Board of Education acquired a statewide contract with Canvas, a learning management system (LMS), which allows teachers to host more content, including assignments and assessments. All districts have access to it. So, aren’t teachers and schools already transparent? 

Putting information on a program like Canvas can fall short of transparency because Canvas is designed to help teachers organize instruction and learning. Transparency requires that information given to parents be designed to help them understand what their students are learning. 

Especially because limited time and lack of knowledge about curriculum are among the reported barriers to parent involvement, policies to help parents easily and quickly understand information about school are important. 

If parents battling economic, time or cultural barriers do not have to muster extraordinary efforts to grasp what students are learning, they may be more likely to get involved with school. Furthermore, these could be the students who need parental involvement more than any – those whose parents may already be pressed to get involved and usually cannot. For those parents who aren’t facing as many challenges, this transparency means their time spent on school involvement is more effective. 

What could user-friendly curriculum transparency look like? 

One possible public policy to aid this approach could be a financial or professional incentive to teachers who voluntarily (1) offer a syllabus of curriculum before the school year, (2) use an LMS tool like Canvas throughout the year, and (3) create awareness of how to use these tools. 

This type of transparency means parents have information to make a choice before the school year and details to get meaningfully involved throughout the year.  

Incentivizing – rather than mandating – this level of transparency means teachers build goodwill and trust with parents who see them as good actors trying to partner with them.  

The good news is some of this is already happening, and access to Canvas across Utah increases the odds that many teachers could achieve this level of transparency for parents with relative ease. 

As parents come to anticipate that teachers in the state offer these tools consistently, they may be more familiar with what to look for and how to get involved.  

On the other side of the coin, parents have a responsibility to use the information being offered to them and to get involved in constructive ways. As always, rights come with responsibilities, and this is no different in the “parents’ rights” movement. 

Why addressing transparency and parental involvement matters 

Aside from assisting parents in promoting their student’s learning – the key objective – such transparency could also address the growing dissatisfaction and distrust in public education.  

Recent Gallup polling data shows that satisfaction with public schools in the last nearly 20 years has gone from 53% (2004) to 36% (2023). The Gallup poll also shows the reasons that parents are dissatisfied with public education; the top answer from the most recent data is poor/outdated curriculum, with 15% of respondents citing this reason.

And, according to a Deseret News survey, both Republican and Democratic parents have a fear of bias in curriculum.

Furthermore, a 2024 Utah likely voter survey shows most voters support curriculum transparency policies for the state.


We all want to improve education, and parental involvement is a known variable that helps achieve this objective. More can be done in public policy to support parents, including making curriculum transparency more user-friendly for them. If we are willing to push toward innovative incentives, Utah can be a leader in curriculum transparency that does just this. 

Isabelle Steed contributed research to this article. 

Insights: analysis, research, and informed commentary from Sutherland experts. For elected officials and public policy professionals.

  • Parent involvement in education has known and clear impacts on student achievement, behavior, motivation and more.
  • We need user-friendly curriculum transparency – the type parents are inclined to use to become partners with teachers.

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