As a former teacher, I find that transparency in education makes me a little nervous. Good! Parents carry the responsibility of raising their children, and they must be kept in the light. That is why a Parents Bill of Rights, introduced in many state legislatures and now before the U.S. House ,is important.
I taught sixth graders at a charter school that served students from low-income families and created my own curriculum. We read about the Holocaust. I discussed themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. I assigned essays about Clarence Thomas. And I enforced strict rules; it took tough love to convince rowdy pre-teens that this 22-year-old was captaining the ship.
Curious parents might have had questions. And I might have been annoyed to answer. But I rarely faced parents’ questions. Most parents were shocked when I called them just to check in. They had never been contacted by a teacher except about behavior issues.
The diminution of parents’ role in their children’s education is many years in the making. I blame an expansive federal Department of Education, which has shifted decisions from school leaders to faceless bureaucrats. I also blame teachers unions, which band against students and parents to secure policies, such as lockdowns , that harm them. I’d love to dismantle both.
Earlier this month, House Republicans introduced the Parents Bill of Rights Act, which passed out of committee with a party-line vote. While the bill does not dismantle the Department of Education or teachers unions, it at least requires school districts to post their curricula (or descriptions of the curricula) publicly, makes teachers meet with parents at least twice a year, provides parents notice when gifted programs are eliminated, empowers parents to opt out of every school survey of students, and informs parents of violent activity at school. These would be great outcomes.
The bill is not perfect. Any companion proposal in the Senate should minimize the bill’s administrative burdens, which would lead to more useless bureaucrats. For example, the bill requires school districts to disseminate not only curricula but also the plan for carrying out parent and family engagement, the list of books and other reading material in the library, and a wordy list of rights. It almost feels like a litigation strategy designed to bombard parents with information and prevent them from reading anything.
A better plan would be to implement an extremely rapid time frame for schools to respond to requests for material. Moreover, posting “the curriculum” may not do parents much good, as it’s written in vague teacher-speak. Parents want to know what’s actually going on in the classroom. That means in-person access to classrooms during class. Then, instead of seeking enforcement through an endless series of reports, perhaps the states or the department could personally field complaints through the Office of Civil Rights.
While politicians debate the merits of the bill, we should remember where educational decisions ought to be made: at the state and local levels. Some states have already enshrined parents’ rights in education, and many others are on the cusp of success. To the parents out there, your right to raise your child is fundamental. Even without a law, you have that right, and the responsibility, to call your children’s teachers, talk with your children about homework and friends, and stay involved in their well-being.
The school bureaucracy does not make it easy. So, kudos to the Parents Bill of Rights Act for giving parents a boost.