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Parents would be given easier access to school curriculum and teacher training materials under GOP proposals that critics say only serve to further vilify teachers and force schools to violate legal agreements.
Mistrust of schools and demonization of teachers has become a central tenet of conservative politics, as Republican lawmakers have moved to clamp down on what they perceive as social agendas in the classroom. Last year, that manifested in an attempt to require teachers to post every lesson plan and worksheet online.
That proposal was ultimately defeated, but a new iteration this year, House Bill 2533, seeks to garner support by requiring schools to post links to all purchased curriculum online instead of placing the burden on teachers.
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“(This is) due to the contention between school transparency and parents’ needs,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Gillette, said during a House Education Committee hearing on Feb. 14.
The Lake Havasu City Republican said school districts would bear the burden, not teachers. The proposal requires districts to post an electronic copy of the course of study offered by each school in the district, a list of all learning materials and each lesson plan used in every school on its website.
Gillette told lawmakers on the panel that can be as simple as uploading a hyperlink to the vendor’s digital copy of the curriculum. Educational curriculum vendors like McGraw-Hill, which sells both textbooks and suggested coursework, often offer an online version.
But Rep. Nancy Gutierrez wasn’t convinced the posting responsibilities wouldn’t eventually fall on teachers. A provision in the bill mandates that all learning materials be posted, including any “supplemental” materials. The Tucson Democrat, who is a former teacher, wondered if bill’s requirements also looped in chapter books used in addition to the textbook, or if teachers who put together creative lesson plans that aren’t sourced from the textbook would be forced to report them.
Gillette rebutted that even creative lesson plans have some grounding in required curriculum and, thus, should be covered. He added that concerns over the minutiae should be resolved on an individual basis between parents and their children, but things like textbooks and curriculum should be made easier to find.
“It’s the parents’ due diligence to look at their kids’ homework, but I can’t see what the school is giving the teacher to teach,” he said.
State law already requires schools to let parents review physical copies of textbooks and instructional materials upon request and school boards hold multiple public meetings over which curriculum and materials to approve for use.
Brandy Reese, a spokesperson for Civic Engagement Beyond Voting and parent of a school-age child, said she already has sufficient access to curriculum and is aware of what is being taught because she communicates with teachers.
“Schools have never been more transparent,” she said. “I can readily access syllabi and online parent portals. I attend school board meetings and talk to my children regularly about what they’re learning. Teacher, principal and counselor contact information is also readily available and easily accessible for parents to reach out.”
Isela Blanc, a spokesperson for the Arizona Education Association, which represents more than 20,000 teachers across the state, said implementing the policies in the bill would funnel money away from students.
“We don’t need to add more administrative burdens and we continue to wonder why the money isn’t going into the classroom. It’s bills like these that cause burdensome costs to school districts,” she said.
The measure was approved along party lines and is headed next to consideration by the full House of Representatives. If it continues to receive unanimous opposition from Democrats, however, it’s unlikely that Gov. Katie Hobbs will sign it, given that she’s vowed to support only bipartisan bills.
Gutierrez noted in her final remarks that the proposal would likely present a legal issue for school districts, who often sign agreements with vendors not to disseminate their copyrighted programs. She added that the bill follows a long string of legislation that unfairly paints teachers as nefarious.
“Teachers are professionals, and we should be treated as such. We are not the enemy,” she said.
Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, echoed that sentiment, saying the bill sent a hostile message to teachers across the state, amid a worsening teacher shortage.
“It will be one more burden on already overworked and underpaid teachers and it will have the effect of driving more teachers from the profession,” she said. “It suggests that the Legislature doesn’t trust them to do their work.”
But Republican lawmakers on the panel, who voted to support it, reiterated their fear over leftist ideologies in schools.
“We need the transparency,” said Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler. “We really need teachers to be professional and not try to guide students politically. It happens all too often, and by parents having the context of the textbook, at least they can have the security of knowing what the kids are supposed to be taught.”
Teacher training would also be made available to parents under House Bill 2786, which would require that all printed and digital materials used in any teacher-focused seminar, webinar or other instruction be made available. The bill makes specific reference to any lessons that include discussion of racial, sexual, gender identity, political or social themes.
Rep. Justin Heap, R-Mesa, told lawmakers on the House Education Committee that, while he’s seen transparency bills addressing classroom curriculum, he felt that teacher trainings, which he said set the tone for classrooms, are too lacking in oversight.
“In Arizona and across the country, there has been a unanimous voice from parents that says parents don’t want to see political, sexual, gender and racial policies inputted into their school,” he claimed.
To bolster his argument that teacher trainings are forwarding those ideologies, he presented a list of seminars offered for teachers in Mesa. Topics included terms like Latinx, equality vs. equity, antiracism, neurotypical and marginalized.
Gutierrez said she’d taken similar trainings as a teacher, and their goal is to ensure instructors are listening to and supporting all students. A lot of the instructional materials used in those trainings is also copyrighted, and schools are prohibited from distributing them freely. She added that information on training topics can be found on district websites — like Heap’s list of Mesa trainings was — and follow-up questions can be answered by reaching out to staff.
But Heap rebutted that digging through the district website for the list was difficult, and doesn’t readily provide insight into what, exactly, was discussed during training sessions.
“Parents have a right to know what their teachers are being taught,” he said.
Blanc, speaking on behalf of the Arizona Education Association, said the bill’s inherent suspicion of teachers is frustrating. Teachers should be respected as professionals and allowed to take advantage of opportunities that help them hone their skills, she said — otherwise, the state risks compounding the current shortage. A 2022 survey found more than 9,600 teacher positions were vacant during the current school year.
“We wonder why we’re having a difficult time retaining educators. It is because of policies like these that continue to put their knee on the back of teachers’ necks,” Blanc said.
All four Democrats on the panel voted against the bill, which moved forward along party lines.
Gutierrez urged lawmakers to trust educational professionals and called for a return to local control, where school districts can do what’s best for them without unnecessary and redundant government obstructions.
“School administrators and school districts are capable of making decisions for their staff based on their communities’ needs,” she said. “We don’t ask our doctors about every workshop that they attend.”
***CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified Rep. John Gillette as a Republican from Peoria; he is from Lake Havasu City.
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