Utah’s New Public School Complaint Department!

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The last night of the session late in the night a bill squeezed through by one vote, and hackles were raised.

S.B.257 Parent Review of Instructional Materials and Curriculum from Sen. Howard Stephenson sounds pretty innocuous.  It asks a parent review committee that already exists to look at complaints raised on materials and curriculum.  The bill also requires that the State Office of Education post on their website a report of the complaints they receive and the actions taken.

What’s the big deal?

First, the committee now tasked with reviewing complaints is the parent committee that is required to read the computer adaptive assessment test questions.  I posted about that committee here.  They met this past summer and spent 40 hours reading over 10,000 test questions looking for anything concerning.  The parents on this committee already have a huge assignment for volunteers.  Additionally, this new task required of them is not aligned with what they are already doing.  They would be required to look into text books and curriculum. Which brings us to concern number two….

Curriculum and instructional materials are dictated by local school boards and charter boards.  The State Office of Education creates a huge list of recommended materials, but all decisions and approval of instructional materials are made at the local level.  A committee containing parents does exist at the State Office called the Instructional Materials Committee.  This committee works on the list of recommended materials, but this committee is not mentioned in the bill.

According to the bill any parent can submit a complaint to the parent review committee.  Knowing the furor over the Common Core, this committee will probably be inundated with complaints.  A small number will probably be very valid.  But so what?  

How should a state committee of parents tasked with reviewing assessment questions decide if a complaint from a parent about locally used textbooks or curriculum decide appropriateness?  If the complaint has to do with an online source the source could be ever evolving – how should those sources be evaluated?  The bill says absolutely nothing about how a review would take place.  The bill does not even say the committee will look at the adopted standards to see if the questioned material aligns.  The bill gives absolutely NO criteria on how the review committee should even handle complaints.  

Finally, the bill gives no deference to local control – and it’s from one of the loudest advocates FOR local control in the Legislature.  Complaints about instructional materials and textbooks should be lodged with those who selected them.  The bill seems counter-intuitive.  

No one is arguing that parents should not have a place to raise concerns regarding instructional materials and curriculum.  Parents should.  But parents should also have a right to have those concerns heard by the correct people and with a clear process for redress.  This bill provides neither of those things.  Instead, all concerned parents are left with is a committee that was originally tasked to do one thing turned into a complaint department for the State Office of Education that has no instructions on how to move forward with their complaint AND no power to address their concerns.

This bill ends up being a disservice to both parents with complaints as well as to the parents who are willing to volunteer to serve on the assessment review committee.  Does this raise your hackles, too?  

There has been a call for this bill to be vetoed by the Governor.  To contact the Governor’s Office, call 801-538-1000 and simply let the secretary know you are requesting a veto for S.B. 257 Parent Review of Instructional Materials and Curriculum.    

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