Op-Ed: Time for greater accountability in education

(John Hendrickson & Heather Curry | The Center Square) – Parents across Iowa are demanding greater accountability from public schools. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with current social and…

(John Hendrickson & Heather Curry | The Center Square) – Parents across Iowa are demanding greater accountability from public schools. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with current social and political movements, has raised significant concerns from parents about what is happening in K-12 classrooms across the state.

Parents want greater visibility into what their children are learning and what types of books and other resources are utilized in school. Whether it is radical 1619 Project curriculum or controversial books that use vulgar words and portray explicit and pornographic content, curriculum concerns are driving this demand for more transparency and accountability. Requiring public schools to be fully transparent about classroom curriculum, available books and other resources within schools is a commonsense and much-needed reform.

Gov. Kim Reynolds agrees. In her Condition of the State address, Reynolds made transparency and accountability a priority.

“Recently, several parents brought to light that schools are buying and teaching with books that contain vulgar and sexually explicit material involving minors. These books are so explicit they’d be X-rated if they were movies. The content is so bad that after a parent read them at a school board meeting, the district took the live stream down from its website because the passages were too inappropriate – and yet many of these books remain in school libraries today,” Gov. Reynolds stated.

Compounding this response is the growing frustration of parents across Iowa who feel that their concerns are being ignored by school leaders. “And sadly, in some cases, school administrators are ignoring the problem or just not listening. Some even believe that it’s a school’s responsibility to not just teach kids to learn but to control what they learn – to push their worldview,” Gov. Reynolds said.

This is another reason why the governor is continuing to make school choice a legislative priority this session. “But for some families, the school district doesn’t fit their values or meet the needs of their child,” Reynolds said in discussing the need for greater parental choice in education.

To bring greater transparency and accountability to the resources and materials being used in classrooms and libraries, Gov. Reynolds has proposed a series of measures that will provide parents with greater visibility and opportunity to know what their child is being taught or what they might find in the school library.

Under the governor’s proposed reform:

  • Public schools will be required to publish their class materials on school and/or district websites where parents and families can review it.
  • Information shall include course syllabuses or written summaries, state academic standards, and titles of or links to textbooks used for classes.
  • Public schools will be required to publish a comprehensive list of books available in their libraries and provide information about the process for filing a concern about a book. If the concern is not addressed by the school district within 30 days, it can be appealed directly to the State Board of Education.

To enforce these requirements, the proposal indicates that “state funding will be withheld from schools that do not comply.”

Several states have either passed or are considering similar legislation that would provide greater academic transparency and accountability. It is unfortunate that radical ideologies, cultural Marxism, and other counterculture ideas and behaviors are being promoted and taught in public schools. The cultural wars have moved into the classroom.

“We live in a free country with free expression. But there’s a difference between shouting vulgarities from a street corner and assigning them as required classroom reading. There’s a difference between late-night cable TV and the school library,” Reynolds said.

Education should not be about pushing a certain ideology or social identity. Schools are tasked with providing an education that helps prepare children to be ready for responsible citizenship.

“These schools are helping shape what children come to believe about the moral, social and historical issues tearing our country apart. These schools are helping shape the men and women these children will become,” columnist Patrick J. Buchanan wrote.

Allowing greater sunlight into the public school system will empower parents to not only know what their child is being taught, but it will allow for greater scrutiny on schools. “We must equip parents themselves with the tools to hold schools accountable for their programming decisions – to be able to see what is being taught and differentiate between activist and academically oriented schools before they have to make an enrollment decision,” former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote.

Gov. Reynolds’ proposal to provide greater transparency and accountability within public education will help restore the right of parents to be informed and involved in the education of their children. More sunlight will only help to improve the overall quality of education in Iowa.

John Hendrickson is policy director of Iowans for Tax Relief Foundation and Heather Curry is director of strategic engagement at the Goldwater Institute.