Greater transparency needed between parents, Michigan schools – Mackinac Center
This article originally appeared in Bridge Michigan March 23, 2022.
Families should have the opportunity to obtain more information from schools that can help them provide a motivating and effective education.
Yet today, parents in different parts of the state are hampered in their efforts to see what their children are learning. Forest Hills Public Schools in western Michigan sent a $400,000 bill to parents who have officially requested documents showing how racial issues are presented in the classroom. More recently, a Rochester mother filed a lawsuit with the help of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation after her district refused to see a list of materials used in a particular high school class and associated teacher training.
As COVID-related restrictions have eased, the heated exchanges at education council meetings have also eased. But parents have sounded the alarm about the functioning of classrooms. Keeping the materials in the dark can only fuel tension and conflict.
Trusting partnerships between parents and professional educators based on sharing information are essential to improving a child’s chances of succeeding in school. And greater transparency builds trust. There’s a growing movement to give moms and dads easier access to what’s being taught in public schools. At least a dozen states have passed legislation to improve academic transparency, an approach that can be a real win-win for parents and teachers.
These state efforts reflect the spirit of the federal government Amendment relating to the protection of students’ rightswhich asserts that parents have the right to “inspect … any educational materials used in the student’s program of study”. Michigan Law also recognizes the right of parents to review the “curriculum, textbooks and instructional materials” used at their child’s school, at what school officials deem “at a reasonable time and place.”
It’s good to let parents see what has been assigned to teach, if it provides a balanced presentation and an appropriate subject for their children to learn. If concerns persist, parents can exercise their options to enroll in a more appropriate public school. Bills have been introduced in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature that seek to add that kind of sunshine.
Technology allows parents to review documents without having to visit schools or depend on school employees. Schools can upload already approved lesson plans or create Google Docs that list textbooks and other classroom materials. Putting it online could even save time for some teachers, who report spend hours searching the Internet for educational resources.
Educational materials could be added to the same webpage that each district must have to display its budgets, benefits, and tax audits. Michigan has made decent progress in financial transparency, although gaps sometimes appear in local reporting. These pages supplement the state’s helpful online publications on detailed accounting spreadsheets and school-level income and expenses.
But there are two distinct opportunities for the state to make school financial reporting more meaningful and effective. First, break down school-level expenses so users can more easily see how much schools allocate to classrooms versus other supports, and employee salaries versus utilities, supplies, and more. services.
Second, make Michigan a national leader by tracking and publishing how specific stipend spending relates to student outcomes. A great place to test that would be on the $6 billion in additional federal COVID relief coming to district and charter schools across the state. Although approved by Congress in 2020 and 2021, most of these dollars have not yet spent. It would be very helpful to know which specific uses and strategies are strongly linked to higher student achievement and other measures of well-being.
The increased disclosure of school documents and school expenses are linked by a common theme. They reflect the fact that the money must follow and focus on the needs of the students, and that parents play a crucial role in choosing the learning environments that will work best. More sun and better information make this goal more achievable.
As a general rule, parents know their children best and are most invested in their success. Addressing their concerns about what classrooms are teaching and how schools are using their growing resources should be a high priority.
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