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. (HB 1134 also has the provisions directed at school librarians discussed in connection with SB 17, below.)
SB 83 would mandate the right of members of the public to yell at school boards; something that’s not guaranteed with respect to any other public body. It’s dressed up as preserving the right of the public to provide input to their elected officials. And, I think a lot of us have a sort of Norman Rockwell vision of the informed citizen participating in the civic process. But, you’ll note that this legislation is borne out of a series of school board meetings where angry patrons sought to intimidate school boards away from implementing mask mandates as the pandemic was surging. The Public Access Counselor was asked what boards could do to maintain civility at these meetings as necessary to do their jobs. He observed, “[G]overning bodies can choose whether to extend the courtesy of a comment forum, and therefore revoke it if misused. Tumult, disorder, and disturbance on the part of the audience should not be tolerated by a board, council, or commission.” That discretion is removed only in the cases of school board meetings. And, what’s more, the provision is incredibly vague, the meeting must “be open at all times for the purpose of permitting members of the public to provide public comment.” It doesn’t say anything at all about what the public comment must look like. Can the Board limit the comment period to 30 seconds? Prohibit repetitive comment? No idea! Presumably if angry anti-maskers are allowed to remain in close proximity to make hostile noises at the members of the school board, the spirit of the law will be satisfied.
HB 1251 and SB 356 provide for “adjunct teachers.” The “adjunct teacher” doesn’t have to know much about how to teach, just has to have experience in the content they are going to teach. At root, this is a declaration that teaching is not a profession. Understanding how different kids learn, knowing how to assess their current level of understanding and communicate the new information based on learning styles and existing sets of knowledge, etc. is incidental. Any geek off the streets who’s spent 4,000 hours reading John Grisham novels, can be a reading teacher. Not incidentally, this looks like a way to water down collective bargaining contracts. There is also a provision that directs the Department of Education to study “parent-teacher compacts” which seem to be some sort of individual contract between teachers and parents that would potentially entitle the teacher to get paid through the state and access public teacher retirement benefits.
SB 17 removes protections for school librarians that currently exist with respect to material alleged to be “harmful to minors.” The public commentary on this has been a little overwrought since “material harmful to minors” is defined by IC 35-49-2-2 and basically tracks the definition of obscenity: appeals to prurient interest, patently offensive to prurient interests, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. So, the likelihood of schools having much in the way of qualifying material seems pretty small. But, by the same token, the utility of removing bars to prosecution of school librarians is nil. It’s a political move to exploit a panic among parents that naughty stuff might be in the school libraries. Probably comes from the same folks who were certain that there was Satanic ritual abuse of children in the Comet Ping Pong basement. And, now that I type it, I suppose there’s a group of people who similarly imagine that our public schools are immoral corrupters of children.
HB 1072 would reward traditional public schools for the hard work of promoting and securing passage of a referendum tax levy public question by diverting the resulting funds to charter schools. This is pernicious because, among other things, the traditional public school can identify the nature of its needs and educate the public on how the referendum will address those needs (e.g. continue to support music, sports, extracurricular activities, smaller class sizes, etc.) but cannot make any such commitment on behalf of the charter schools. And, as we’ve seen from recent scandals, charter schools in Indiana are more likely to suffer from lack of oversight, conflicts of interest in contracting, unreliable student counts, opaque spending, and no discernible advantage in student outcomes as compared to traditional public schools.
I’m sure there is more oozing about in various bills, but that’s enough for a Sunday afternoon. If someone with more knowledge wants to correct or expand upon what I’ve written, I’d appreciate it. There’s a *lot* floating around out there, and I just took a crash course by reading a lot of the legislation. I don’t pretend to have a lot of deep knowledge.
In any case, you’ll note that none of this is particularly geared toward making our kids smarter, wiser, more productive, or better citizens. Mainly they’re just cultural proxy wars where teachers, school boards, and liberals are the enemy and students are collateral damage.