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Opinion: How lesson-plan transparency will improve learning across NC



MATT BEIENBURG

Carolina Journal


The same voices that called for shutting kids out of their classrooms due to COVID-19 now want to shut parents and the public out of what North Carolina kids are learning. Perhaps even worse, they want to shut down a chance for teachers to lighten their load and improve the performance of their students.


That chance is the new “Academic Transparency Act,” which requires public schools to post online the lesson plans used to teach children in state-operated K-12 schools. This proposal — passed with a supermajority in the North Carolina House last year — lets parents know what’s being covered in the classroom while empowering teachers to build off the success of their peers.


Unfortunately, union-aligned “advocates” immediately accused state lawmakers of “fanning fake culture war flames” by simply expecting government entities to operate under 21st century daylight.


Likewise, in a clever rhetorical maneuver, the North Carolina Association of Educators responded, “A trusting partnership between parents, caregivers, and teachers is vital to student success… but student curriculum is already public.”


To the untrained ear, that sounds like a good reason to leave well enough alone. But as educators know, the general “curriculum” may be public, but that tells almost nothing of the actual, specific content used to teach kids, which too often remains in a black box.


For example, supplemental materials like the New York Times 1619 Project, which falsely claimed that the American Revolution was fought to protect slavery, and which is being used in over 3,500 classrooms across the nation — including all over North Carolina — currently land on students’ desks without being part of any officially adopted “curriculum.” 


Indeed, such “supplemental” articles, videos, essays, and web resources now make up a majority of the social studies instruction kids throughout the country often receive. Simply reporting the textbook or general topics to be covered in class reveals little about the actual content kids are getting.


But it’s not just the classroom content either. As noted in The News & Observer, “The legislation also would require schools to post information on materials they use to train teachers and information on outside speakers who talk to students.”


Why? Well, remember that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools paid over $25,000 to Ibram X. Kendi — famous for declaring “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination” — to speak to district staff. Remember that organizations such as the Zinn Education Project make boasts like the following:


“We offer professional development workshops in collaboration with school districts, teacher unions, and at teacher conferences…We have several campaigns including… Teach Climate Justice, Teaching for Black Lives, and Abolish Columbus Day.”


But put all of that aside and consider the two main complaints coming from union-aligned critics. As one Red for Ed activist summed up the opposition’s view, “Teachers are currently so overworked” that “this onerous requirement” would drive them from the profession.


That would be a fair concern, except that Academic Transparency would actually help relieve this pressure. As repeated studies have found, teachers currently spend three to four hours each week searching for materials to use in the classroom. With Academic Transparency, these teachers — disproportionately young teachers most in need of support and most susceptible to turnover — would be able to instantly observe the recipes their experienced peers are using, rather than having to reinvent the wheel from scratch.


Moreover, thousands of teachers across the country already submit their lesson plans to principals, post their materials on Google Classroom or school portals, or even just document their materials for reuse the following year. Academic Transparency would simply harness such existing best practices.


In fact, as teachers across the nation have attested, Academic Transparency would promote collaboration amongst teachers without adding any significant burden.


This leads to the other major objection from the Red for Ed establishment, who declare: “Secondly, many teachers spend hours developing their own supplementary materials due to the subpar curriculum they’re often saddled with. Those materials are their intellectual property.” Or, as another educator put it, Academic Transparency would make it so that other “teachers can steal our lessons.”


Yet this mindset simply validates the benefits of Academic Transparency for teachers — reducing the need to spend hours reinventing the wheel. This mindset also places the wellbeing of students beneath the self-interest of individual public employees.


As one former North Carolina lawmaker opposed to Academic Transparency inadvertently summed up the opposition, “My concern is who gets credit… [T]his would prompt people who are coming into the system to just search the website and grab the best lesson plans and turn them in.”


Encourage our teachers to use the best lessons? Count me in.

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