H.B. 4117: Posting Curriculum Online Gives Parents a Glimpse of What’s Being Taught to Their Kids

The past year has seen a tsunami of State government initiatives pointed straight at our public school system. From the implementation of Culturally Responsible Teaching and Leading Standards (CRTL) to mask mandates that put bureaucrats in the position of in loco parentis while ignoring the minimal risk to children of COVID-19, our schools are losing local control to the dictates of a one-size-fits-all State. I’m now getting emails and calls from constituents about the implementation of curriculum centered on such notions as Critical Race Theory (CRT).

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I take a back seat to no one in wanting to stem the rise of politics in the classroom, but I also want parents to be the point persons holding school districts responsible for what’s being taught to their kids.

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Conservatives have long subscribed to the notion that public schools should be subject to local, rather than centralized State control and that state lawmakers ought not infringe on their activities even when the outcomes are not what they’d wish. Ironically, progressives have been more than happy to indulge conservatives’ scruples on this point, voicing uncharacteristic reverence for “local control” over K 12 and the authority of school boards and administrators, knowing that they have such an outsized influence over such measures through the teachers’ unions.

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Parents’ concerns center not only on CRT, but also upon the lack of access to what is being presented to their children as learning material and teaching aids. Illinois law affirms parents’ rights to access curriculum information, but in practice, parents often have limited options to review the materials that are being used in their kids’ classrooms. The Public Act cited here was passed in 1979, and in the 42 years since, very little has changed regarding how that information is conveyed to those entitled to see it. It’s often the case that parents who want to review course materials are required to travel to the school during specified hours, or they are shown only incomplete curriculum frameworks that don’t disclose actual content. Too often, parents find out what is being taught only after their child comes home to tell them about it.

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I recently sent a letter to all of the school districts within the 63rd Legislative District asking for the districts’ policies regarding curriculum review, and the following responses were representative:

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  • Depending upon the materials, they would be made available upon request during school hours. Increasing numbers of materials are available in electronic format (example – licenses for logins). These resources would be handled as appropriate, based on the resource. If a login can be created, it could potentially be shared. Other electronic resources may need to be demonstrated.
  • A student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) may inspect, upon their request, any instructional material used as part of their child/ward’s educational curriculum within a reasonable time of their request…If you wish to review any survey instrument or instructional material, please submit your request to the Building Principal. You will be notified of the time and place where you may review these materials.

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It’s with this in mind that I’ve filed H.B. 4117, which requires public school districts having more than 300 students to post online a listing of all instructional materials used in the classroom, whether it be core textbooks, news articles, digital materials, teacher-prepared reading lists or other resources.

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Parents can already easily go online to the Illinois Report Card to access schools’ financial data, student performance scores, graduation and dropout rates, enrollment processes, and more. H.B. 4117 simply extends the same 21st century access to course content.

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Districts will not be required to copy and upload every page of content. Instead, the bill simply requires schools to simply list the basic information (e.g., title and author or website) to identify each resource, organized by subject and grade. Parents will then have the ability to access these resources for their own review.

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This sort of transparency doesn’t tie teachers’ hands or require any additional pre-approval of materials. It would simply require that the materials be documented. Teachers and administrators may simply post information in a manner as easy and inexpensive as copying the names and links into a Google Doc visible via the school’s website. Teachers are generally expected to submit lesson plans with their material to administrators and are already keeping track of their resources to reuse in future years, so the additional workload would be minimal.

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While some states have successfully passed legislation banning CRT and other politically divisive materials, we must remember that this is Illinois, where the teachers’ unions and progressive members of the General Assembly will certainly not allow such measures to pass here at the State level, and frankly, I don’t want the State to have a dog in this fight. The battle needs to be waged at the district level, and by giving parents the tools they need to see what’s actually being taught to their kids, they can level the playing field and hold school boards and administrators accountable for their curriculum choices.

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