As I read Iowa House File 2577, the so-called public school transparency bill, I’m reminded of the TV commercial where an old lady explains social media posting to her friends. After a couple of failed attempts, she says, “That’s not how any of this works.”
Requiring teachers to post on the school website every item they teach, and all the materials used to teach is, “Not how any of this works.”
Transparency is a good thing, until people realize this brand of transparency has a very real cost, and the law is a solution in search of a problem.
According to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, this will cost schools in Iowa an estimated $ 16.4 million annually because substitute teachers or administrators will need to be hired to deal with this unfunded mandate. It would also require school districts to increase the capabilities of their websites and hire a full time IT person to manage content.
Another cost is less tangible, but very real. Substitute teachers will be used while a classroom teacher is busy fulfilling this law. That cheats student out of their full-time teacher.
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Even without this new law, parents can find out what’s going on at school. It’s called communicating with the school district through parent teacher conferences, email, and asking their own kids what’s happening in class.
Most districts have grading portals where parents can check grades and what assignments a student is missing. Most teachers correspond with parents and students online. Every school has a newsletter. If a parent wants to complain about material used in class, districts have board policies about how that may be done.
The bill has improved a little from the Senate version. In that bill, teachers could only post twice a year on August 23 and on January 15. This would mean, social studies teachers would not be able to discuss the invasion of Ukraine because it was not known by either of those dates. In the House version, posting is ongoing and must be done within 7 days of the material taught.
Under this law, both teachers and school districts have a no-win choice. Teachers can choose to follow best teaching practice or ignore the law, and potentially put their jobs at risk. Districts can not ensure total compliance, since principals would need to be in every classroom every period, which is impossible, and districts may face penalties.
Teachers need to know the kids in their classes. Asking teachers to plan everything they teach and at what pace they plan to teach it, is like asking a doctor to diagnose a patient without ever seeing the patient. Its bad practice disguised as transparency.
The pace of instruction depends on the students. Many times, teachers understand they must slow instruction because when they check for understanding, they see there are problems with comprehension. Other times, students breeze through a concept, and teachers increase the pace to keep classes from being bored. These decisions are made in real time often in front of 30 or more students.
This bill is an example of state government overreach brought to us by a Republican Party, that once prided itself as the party of small government. It’s also a lame attempt to send the message that public school educators are not to be trusted. If it was not, private school teachers would be held to the same unreasonable standard.
“It’s not how any of this works,” so, let’s not cheat our kids out of the teachable moments, and the magic that happens everyday in Iowa classrooms. Public school teachers are not the enemy; ignorance is.
Bruce Lear, of Sioux City, has been connected to public schools for 38 years. He taught for 11 years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.
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