By Gloria Gomez/UA Don Bolles Fellow/AZ Mirror
PHOENIX — Citing a need for academic transparency, Senate Republicans on Monday approved a bill that would require teachers to post all their lesson plans and materials online for parental review, despite some reservations.
“In my opinion (it) really does add a lot of busywork for teachers. … I think some of it is good. Parents should have access to information. They should have access to what’s being taught but this is very intense and I think overkill,” said Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale.
Ugenti-Rita argued that Senate Bill 1211 doesn’t address the most pressing issues in education, but voted to approve it anyway, saying she would speak with the sponsor and the House Education Committee chair about revisions. The real problem, she said, is the nonpartisan nature of school board elections. Ugenti-Rita introduced a bill to require them to be partisan, but it died in committee.
SB1211 requires teachers to post on their school’s website the titles and links to books, worksheets and lesson plans used in the classroom within seven days of first use. Curriculum that touches on race, gender, diversity and discrimination must be uploaded to the site 72 hours beforehand.
Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, said the measure has been years in the making. Past versions have failed to make it out of the lower chamber, and he hopes this iteration meets with a better fate. Still, he is concerned about the logistics of implementing it at the grade school level.
High schools are more syllabus-based in terms of required reading, but younger students are often given more choice, Pace said. He noted that a third grader may be allowed to read any book from the classroom library and questioned whether their choice then constitutes required reading that must be uploaded. Despite this lack of clarity, he agreed with the bill’s purpose, sharing that his sons once revealed they were allowed to play non-educational video games after exams.
“While they were harmless, it was one of those things where I’m sure several of their peers were not telling mom and dad that they get to play some of these video games,” he said.
Pace voted to approve the bill, saying he would work to help revise it later. The bill passed the Senate 16-13 along party lines and heads next to the House for consideration.
Critics have said the requirements only add to the workload a shrinking pool of Arizona teachers face, to the detriment of students.
Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Paradise Valley, said increasing the workload would negatively impact educational quality. The former high school teacher said teachers across the state are already overstretched, and often juggle planning, grading and meeting with students and parents, along with actual lessons.
“This is going to place a burden on teachers which directly and indirectly affects the kids,” she said.
A 2019 Department of Education survey found teachers worked 12.8 hours outside of school, along with an average of 49.5 hours during the week. Marsh said increasing that by asking teachers to consistently upload data cuts into time spent with students and developing future lessons. An amendment by Marsh to make the data available upon request — not in advance — was rejected.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, refuted this view, saying the public sharing of resources would actually be a timesaver and improve lesson plan creation. New teachers, and those struggling to find inspiration, will be able to review the time-tested methods of their veteran counterparts, instead of resorting to online queries. The bill, however, doesn’t require uploading full lesson plans, just the titles of every material used and the topic being taught.
Barto has championed the measure as a protection of parents’ rights. The state’s parent bill of rights guarantees the parental right to direct the education of their children, which Barto argues hasn’t been properly enshrined.
“(SB1211 is) a transparency bill that will truly allow parents to see firsthand what’s happening in the instruction that their child is getting — something that the law guarantees that they have but they are not able to actually experience now,” she said.
Current state law directs schools to develop procedures for parents to inquire about and review learning materials, as well as opt their children out of lessons that involve topics they may object to. School districts are also required to approve textbooks and other books used in a course, and must make all textbook choices being considered as part of a course available for public review for at least 60 days before any of them are officially chosen.
Gloria Gomez, a senior at the University of Arizona, is the 2022 UA School of Journalism’s Don Bolles Fellow working with editors from the Arizona Mirror. Gomez has interned at the Arizona Daily Star and worked at the Arizona Daily Wildcat. She is a dual major in journalism and political science, with a Spanish minor. She’s a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The UA School of Journalism started the fellowship in 1977 to honor Don Bolles, an Arizona Republic reporter killed in a 1976 car bombing.