Cast your memory back, gentle reader, to February of 2022. In some ways, it was a simpler time. Reproductive rights were still mostly legal in Indiana. Russia mostly had not invaded Ukraine. And pretty much every person I knew who was involved with the educational system in West Lafayette agreed that HB 1134 concerning “transparency” was a terrible idea.
I know I’ve been critical of the General Assembly for its approach to educational policy over the years, but its really outdoing itself with the fire hose of shit it’s directing at our local schools this year.
The biggest turd in the punch bowl is HB 1134. Let’s start with its “transparency” requirements. (Transparency is good, right? Can’t be against transparency any more than you can be against God, Mom, and Apple Pie!) The new IC 20-30-17 requires school corporations to post a ton of curricular material for classes in the August preceding the school year. I’m not sure you can tell exactly what’s required because, IC 20-30-17-5(b), which really seems like it’s going to be the critical bit of that chapter does not seem to be written in a complete sentence. Not later than August 1 of each year, the school corporation is required to post, in a manner that is disaggregated, in a manner that is accessible, and in a manner that shows bibliographic information, …. something. It’s not clear what. The next subdivision says that a summary of educational activities (which is a broadly defined term) has to be posted as far in advance as possible, but it’s not at all clear what has to be posted by August 1. In any case, this is just another administrative burden heaped on the shoulders of teachers and administrators that is extremely unlikely to have any real world benefits. If a parent has questions about their kids’ education, how about just asking?
A similarly misguided effort at transparency or parental input or some other glittering generality would mandate a “Curricular Materials Advisory Committee.” Right out of the gate, it’s clear that the advisory committee has no jurisdiction over standardized tests. That could obviously cut into the College Board’s bottom line, and that just wouldn’t do. The advisory committee is directed to have more parents than educational professionals and to have a majority of people who don’t work for the school corporation. The advisory committee is charged with making sure educational materials “are representative of the community’s interests and aligned with Indiana academic standards.” Most communities have a wide variety of interests that sometimes conflict with one another, so that’s not terribly helpful guidance. They also will make recommendations about how to comply with the incomplete sentence about posting curricular materials.
Then there is the “CRT” inspired provisions that I discussed in an earlier blog post. All sound fairly inoffensive taken on their face (e.g. no one should be taught or forced to embrace the idea that a person can be racist simply by virtue of their race). But it’s more than suspicious that these bills are reactive to efforts to teach, for example, that racism has resulted in structural inequality that persists regardless of anyone’s individual intent. Politically, I think the right has deemed it advantageous to take advantage of a panic among parents that little Johnny might be taught to believe that he should feel guilty about being a racist because he’s a white boy. Regardless of the underlying substance, I’m on record as not liking the General Assembly dictating curriculum. Additionally, there is a provision that would create an incentive to bring suits by awarding attorney’s fees to a prevailing plaintiff (which could be an out of district advocacy group) while not awarding such fees to a school that successfully defends against a suit. (To get fees, the school would have to prove that the out of district advocacy group or whoever was litigating in bad faith — which is a very heavy lift.)
Finally, there are provisions limiting a school’s ability to provide social-emotional support to students. Candidly, I do not understand the nuances of these provisions. I don’t know the support services and recommendations schools are currently providing, how they are objectionable, and what schools would be permitted to do in terms of addressing social emotional problems that are affecting the students’ educational progress if this legislation passed. Friends of mine seem to indicate that this is sparked by questions of sex and gender.
Question: The Indiana General Assembly debated a pair of bills in spring 2022 that would have provided more oversight of classrooms, including asking teachers to post lesson plans at the start of the year so parents could review them and limiting how schools teach what were termed “divisive concepts.” Do you back those proposals. Why or why not?
Laurence Wang: Those proposals make sense to me. Communication and information sharing are two major ways to improve classroom transparency. Parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s education. When parents are more comfortable with what their children are taught in classroom, they will be more willingly to send their kids to our school. I believe classroom transparency will help WLCSC’s enrollment.
(Emphasis added). Perhaps not incidentally, Wang was also one of those who expressed support for charter schools. So, I differ strongly with him. Also, the idea that West Side’s enrollment is suffering because teachers are not posting their curricular material in August strikes me as not aligning well with the available facts. I’d say our biggest challenge in that regard is that we are landlocked. Unlike, say, our neighboring Tippecanoe School Corporation, there aren’t any cornfields waiting to be turned into subdivisions that will add more students. And, not for nothing, but teachers hated HB 1134 with a white hot passion. If you want to see teacher retention plummet, start embracing those sorts of policies.