March 14, 2022

By Matt Beienburg

Arizona lawmakers and the Goldwater Institute scored a major victory today for parents, students, and the public K-12 education system with passage of the nation’s most robust academic transparency legislation through the Arizona Senate. Sponsored by state Sen. Nancy Barto, SB 1211 establishes parents’ right to know what is being taught in public schools by requiring those schools to post on a publicly accessible portion of their website a listing of the specific learning materials used at each institution.

Under the legislation, which is also being considered in similar forms in more than twenty other states, prospective parents will no longer have to guess and gamble about whether a nearby school is informally slipping into the classroom content such as the New York Times 1619 Project, or assigning books that teach students racially divisive and politically activist lessons. Instead, this new academic transparency legislation empowers families to make informed decisions about their kids’ education.

The academic transparency approach, pioneered by the Goldwater Institute, offers a direct policy solution for the 84 percent of voters who—according to polling—believe that parents should be able to see the curriculum plans and materials for their children’s classes. Crucially, it also ensures that for the first time, parents have the ability to identify and distinguish between schools pushing radical politics versus those affirming core academic principles before they’re forced to choose where to send their children. 

As Senator Barto declared of SB 1211 in Senate proceedings Wednesday, “the heart of this bill is getting to all of the materials being available to parents, because they need access. They need to know what is being presented to their children.”

Teachers unions and other opponents of the bill have claimed that it would harm Arizona’s public education system, that it would inhibit adaptability, and that it failed to include input from educators themselves—all notions quickly dispelled by Senator Vince Leach, who also spoke (and voted) in favor of the legislation.

As he noted, for instance: “I have…one of the most aggressive, fastest growing, and innovative school districts in the state…in the top five, if not right at the top…This is Vail School District: they were heavily involved in final amendments of this. They are as innovative as you can get. They don’t put lesson plans together until after the day when they see how their groups of students are doing, and what they need to teach the next day.”

Yet as he pointed out, thanks to the collaboration that went into the bill, SB 1211 brought even “the blessing of Vail School District behind this bill. They’re not losing teachers. They don’t see a [flight] of students into charter schools, homeschools [or] private schools. Why? Because they are a top school…They want the parents to see everything.”

Senator Paul Boyer similarly spoke in support of the bill: “I do see a huge benefit of this. Teachers regularly submit lesson plans. They do, every week. All this bill calls for is to post that on a Google Doc or a Word doc for any parent that wants to see it, to see it. It’s also another benefit for teachers.” Citing his own experience as an educator building a class syllabus for the first time, he said that “if this were in place, I could have seen what’s being done” by other teachers. As he observed further: “If say hypothetically I’m in a ‘D’ or ‘F’ school, it would be nice to know…what are the ‘A’ schools doing? Maybe, just maybe, I could figure out what the ‘A’ schools are doing and I could do that in my classroom.”

Having secured approval from the full Senate, SB 1211 now heads to the Arizona House, where members of that chamber will similarly have the chance to show their support for parents, students, and Arizona’s K-12 system by bringing transparency to our classrooms.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute.

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