Mar 19, 2022

INSIGHT KANSAS: What the parent rights, transparency bill doesn’t do

Posted Mar 19, 2022 10:13 AM
Sharon Hartin Iorio is Dean Emerita Wichita State University College of Education.
Sharon Hartin Iorio is Dean Emerita Wichita State University College of Education.

Once again, another unfunded mandate is working its way through the Kansas Legislature — HB2662.  If passed, this bill would establish a Parents’ Bill of Rights and Academic Transparency law.  

In general, the parents’ rights part of the act restates provisions for parents of public school students that currently exist in other state laws. These include the right of parents to be heard in school board meetings, to have access to curricula, to protect the privacy of their children and the right to op-out of individual classes or health care services.

The transparency part of the act requires schools to post on-line and maintain extensive, detailed information on each course and grade-level curricula including library resources.  

Although requiring teachers to post lesson plans has been eliminated from the bill, recording and updating a school master-site with each curriculum and resources used within lessons remains in the bill. Also required are that copies of certain tests, questionnaires, surveys and examinations be made available to parents prior to obtaining consent to administer these items.  

All this would come with a big price tag for implementation that cannot be estimated as well as tremendous time in monitoring the information.

Educators see the bill as micromanaging, distrusting, even vilifying teachers. The fear is that the act will foster self-censorship that will make lessons about difficult but important subjects nearly impossible, not to mention the tremendous addition to teachers’ workload caused by posting multiple, evolving instructional resources—time taken away from teaching.    

As has happened in the past, our schools today, are highly politicalized with Republican and Democrat forces churning curriculum into election fodder that feeds public tensions surrounding American history, racism and gender identification. 

Still, it’s puzzling that some of our legislators want to re-legislate extant laws and create more, and more costly, non-instructional work for teachers and schools.  

Nevertheless, if we want the bill to become something more than using teachers for political gain, a revised HB2662 might start us down a better path.

There is a large, underlying challenge for Kansas public education to move toward learning models that will prepare our students for the 21st Century.  

Reimagining our schools will require a more highly organized statewide education system that is supported by electronic technology and based on open access to data, is easy to navigate and encourages parental and community engagement in our schools. 

At present there is incomplete access for Kansas parents because broadband is not yet available to all Kansas residents, particularly those in rural and low-income urban areas.  

Moreover, teachers have the right not to be burdened by overwhelming, non-teaching data- management tasks.  Generally, employees, when asked to take on more tasks at work, are given release- or over-time or, still better, tasks are assigned to others hired for the new purpose. 

As yet, HB2662 does not account for how federal and state funds, including those earmarked for COVID relief and development, might be earmarked to set up a modern network for the Kansas State Department of Education and each school to connect state standards with school curriculum with limited resource lists solely for classroom goals. 

The Parents’ Rights and Academic Transparency bill cannot be effective, if there is no fully accessible, efficiently organized, maintainable and funded access to school information.  

This bill needs a big rewrite.

Sharon Hartin Iorio is Dean Emerita Wichita State University College of Education.