4.8.22 – Houston Chronicle

“Opinion: How can school districts dial down parents’ rancor? Embrace new transparency laws.”
By Donna Bahorich, former chair of the Texas State Board of Education



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Parents’ concerns over what their children are taught have grown into a full-throated outcry. They justifiably rail against school boards that too often display scant recognition of parents’ historical responsibility for their children’s education. (More about this declaration later.) It is true that parents typically entrust teachers and principals as “fiduciaries” for the day-to-day work of education. But no one is more invested in children than their own parents. <p ">Recently, as parents increasingly voiced exasperation with school boards about COVID actions, library books, curriculum and ideological teaching, they were often met with unsuitable responses, such as restricted access, questionable removals from public meetings, characterizations as violent threats by the National School Boards Association’s infamous letter for which they’ve since apologized. Poor reactions to parental concerns — even if those concerns are expressed in highly offensive ways — only serve to escalate, not resolve, issues.

How can we dial down the rancor? How can we re-establish parents’ faith in public education — especially regarding questions of ideology and significant COVID learning losses? How can governing bodies respond professionally and helpfully to parental concerns?

State legislation from 2021 regarding curriculum and instructional materials can help build parents’ confidence and reduce tensions among school leaders.

enate Bill 3 (session 2)requires public schools to offer a parental access portal if they utilize a learning management system (software that stores, delivers and tracks education content) or any online learning system portal to deliver instructional material to students. In plain language, this means parents should be able see the digital equivalent of textbooks and workbooks.

House Bill 1525 (regular, Sect. 7) addresses human sexuality instruction and increases the transparency of the local School Health Advisory Council [SHAC]. Every public school district has an SHAC composed of community members, but to my knowledge none have provided parents easy access to detailed records. SHAC meetings now must keep a written and audio or video record, meet at least four times annually — twice open to the public — before adopting recommendations. Recommendations are made at a public school board meeting. The board must then hold a record vote and provide a detailed description of the content, along with the teaching schedule, to the public. Parents must be allowed to review or purchase the curriculum. Finally, the school is required to obtain written consent (opt-in) from a student’s parent to instruct the student about human sexuality. Parents who allow their student to receive instruction may remove them from any portion without penalty.

A state budget rider (pg 236) requires the State Board of Education to ensure that instructional materials and technology purchased with funds disbursed from the state meet certification requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act the federal code designed to keep pornographic materials out of schools.

Though not required by these new laws, school districts could do more to build trust with parents by sharing instructional materials under consideration on their websites, with access provided by publishers, and asking for comments.

These responsive changes move alongside parents instead of sidestepping them.

Educators are professionals…The central, and full-time, mission of schools must be accountability to measurable, positive student outcomes demonstrating what students know and are able to do while fostering an educational growth environment for all.

Yes, K-12 schools could take on many societal topics and extracurricular conversations in the classroom, but should they?

I believe their goal should be to ensure that the main thing is done relentlessly, remarkably well. We must be able to count on schools to do their main job: prepare students to embrace their futures. Student outcomes in critical areas like reading and math matter. Are these the conversations dominating school board discussions across the country?

My earlier bold statement on the primary role of parents in education comes from the founding 1979 legislation (Title I, Sec. 101 (3)) establishing the U.S. Department of EducationCongress found “parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and States, localities, and private institutions have the primary responsibility for supporting that parental role.”

These parents, often disparaged as angry and scary, are, in my opinion, hungry. Hungry for K-12 education to focus on its essential mission: supporting parents in preparing their children to flourish in our demanding and ever-competitive world. To become productive citizens, civic contributors and — perhaps most important — problem solvers.

Bahorich is a former chair of the State Board of Education and commissioner of the Texas Historical Commission.