Pennsylvania Republicans want to jump on the teacher transparency train, motivated no doubt by nothing but good thoughts and in no way pandering to the mob currently demanding that we root Evil Indoctrination out of schools. HB 1332 requires districts to post a bunch of instructional stuff on line; it has just passed the House, and will probably sail through the GOP-controlled Senate as well, but it's a particularly bad example of this sort of bill, and it deserves to die on the statehouse steps. Let's talk about why.
First, the bill is both redundant and vague. Here's exactly what the bill requires districts to post:
...all curriculum, including academic standards to be achieved, instructional materials, assessment techniques and course syllabus for each instructional course offered...
Curriculum is publicly adopted by school boards. Academic standards are adopted by the state and already available on line (perhaps the law wants to see which standards apply to which parts of which courses, but the bill doesn't say that). Instructional materials can mean virtually anything a teacher ever uses in the classroom; does the bill want a list of textbooks (again, publicly adopted by the board) or every worksheet and handout, text of every lecture, pictures of stuff drawn on the chalk/white-board, homework assignments--the list can go on forever, but it doesn't even start here. Assessment techniques--so the school just has to say "there will be tests and worksheets and an occasional pop quiz" and that's it? Also, how do copyrights and IP rights factor into this? This is a bill that says, "Put up some of the stuff that is already publicly available, and throw in some more whatever-ya-got."
All of this must be posted within thirty days of the adoption of a new curriculum. It does, at least, apply to both public and charter schools. Private schools get a pass.
But in addition to being vague, the bill has also skipped over the important "or else" part of any law. It says absolutely nothing about how compliance will be judged or enforced.
Let me tell you a story. Back in 2002, I was the president of our local, and we went on strike. In Pennsylvania, there's a law that says the school year must be finished by a certain date, meaning that a strike must end by a certain date in order for the school to get its full lawful year in. The teachers and the district wanted to determine what that date would be early on and, just for fun, to find out what the consequences would be if we went over. Both the district and the union made calls to Harrisburg. Not only could we not get answers to any of our questions, but we couldn't even find a department in Harrisburg that would admit to being responsible for overseeing the rule and compliance with it. We finally had to just settle on a date between ourselves; it was one of the first things we settled in that strike.
So for this bill--which is only 17 lines long, and that includes definitions of terms and the "this act will take effect in 60 days" part--who is going to decide whether or not a school district has complied fully and accurately? Will there be some sort of accountability if a district doesn't actually follow the syllabus of record? Will someone check to make sure that the online material is complete and accurate and enough to satisfy the law?
And if the districts is found--somehow, by somebody--to have failed to comply, which department in Harrisburg is going to scold them, and what will the penalty be, exactly?
Mind you, I don't particularly want to see these things in a bill, but the fact that they aren't there suggests that this is not so much a serious bill as just a stunt.
And being just a stunt would be okay, except that this is going to create a crapload of electronic busywork for a bunch of teachers. In some districts, the work required by the bill is more or less done already, but in some districts, a bunch of teachers will now be required to use their copious free time to pull together the whole mountain, chapter, and verse for their courses. The bill specifies that chief administrators are responsible for getting this stuff put up, but that task will simply be delegated. And these days, don't teachers just really need One More Damn Thing to do. The best response of schools will be to not take this requirement seriously and just quickly post whatever, but educators are too often good soldiers and rules followers--some districts are going to take this seriously and demand a bunch of extra time from teachers, or, worse yet, spend taxpayer dollars to compensate teachers for extra time spent on this.
In Pennsylvania, districts are regularly required to craft Strategic Plans, which often involve big committees and lots of meetings (I participated in every one of these when I was a teacher) and in the end it generates a large, complex planning and steering document that sits on a shelf somewhere and is never viewed again by a single living soul. It's thousands of person-hours building a bridge to nowhere. This smells like more of the same.
Democrats in the House smelled something else as well.“This bill will drag education right into the middle of the culture wars,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny County, “Your neighbor, her grandfather in Florida, your crazy uncle and his best friend in California can all weigh in on what the schools are teaching your child. Let’s be clear.”
“This bill isn’t about transparency for parents,” Frankel said. “It’s about bringing the fights that get started on Fox News to the kindergarten classroom near you. ... This legislation is an invitation to the book burners and anti-maskers to harass our schools and our teachers.”