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SALT LAKE CITY — Local school boards and teachers, above others, should be responsible for creating and approving curriculum for K-12 education.
That's according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll among 808 registered voters in Utah. Among those who responded to the poll, 19% said local school boards should be responsible for curriculum selection while 17% said teachers should be responsible.
Fortunately, that's how things are already done in the state's public education system.
Linda Hanks, president of the Utah School Boards Association, said the poll results "confirm what we believed to be true. We affirm our support of local governance by elected nonpartisan school boards working with their communities to develop and adopt curriculum aligned with Utah core standards that meet the needs of their students."
Meanwhile, 14% of those polled by Dan Jones & Associates from Feb 7-17 said parents should be responsible for creating and approving public school curricula. The poll has a plus or minus 3.45 percentage point margin of error.
Just 2% of respondents said federal officials should have a role in those decisions and only 3% said the Utah Legislature should be involved.
Forty-one percent of those who responded selected "a combination."
Patty Norman, deputy state superintendent of student achievement, said the processes that result in a certain curriculum being taught in a teacher's classroom are deliberately thorough and involve many stakeholders from start to finish.
Curriculum decisions are local decisions but schools must teach to the standards established by the Utah State Board of Education. Developing new standards can take a couple of years, and it can take about a year for a school district to select new curriculum.
"It really is a nice checks and balances because of local control," Norman said.
There are opportunities for parent and public input throughout the processes, whether that is serving on committees, participating in public comment periods or simply sending an email to an elected school board member.
A parent who objects to their child reading a certain book or participating in a classroom activity can opt out, too, she said.
"When they make those statements, the teacher has the ability to say, 'Thank you, your child, they will not participate in this activity, but I still have to teach your child to the standard so I can do it through an alternate activity,'" Norman said.
Norman said the poll results reflect what actually happens — curriculum selection decisions are made by local boards of education with recommendations from education leaders, and input from parents and teachers, some of whom "test drive" lessons.
Even as educators put lessons into action, curriculum is further refined to meet the needs of individual students, she said.
"It could be that the child needs to be challenged. It could be that the child needs extra time. It could be that the child is just not understanding the way that it's being provided through that text or that resource, and they need another way of doing it. So we leave it to our teachers to be the implementers of effective instruction," Norman said.
While the poll results indicate that curriculum selection is not necessarily a role for legislators, there are occasions when Utah legislators introduce legislation that call for the instruction of certain topics.
This session, for instance, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, is carrying, HB274, which would call for the State School Board to establish curriculum requirements that include sexual violence behavior prevention. The bill is before the House of Representatives awaiting action.
Whether to include that in a local school curriculum would be a local decision "because it's a choice of options," Norman said.
The poll also examined so-called educator transparency legislation before the Utah Legislature, asking the Utahns surveyed whether they support a proposal that would require all learning materials in public schools to be approved by posting them online for at least 30 days, holding a public hearing, and receiving final approval by the local school board.
Forty-five percent of those polled said they supported the proposal while 48% opposed and 7% said they did not know.
Support for transparency measures was highest among people with a high school education, with a total of 62% saying they strongly or somewhat support transparency measures.
Meanwhile, 67% of the people polled who have participated in postgraduate studies said they either strongly or somewhat opposed such legislation.
HB234, sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, is currently on hold after significant pushback by the Utah Education Association.
Norman said individualized instruction renders full transparency unworkable because some curriculum changes are made in real time to accommodate students' needs.
That said, educators are responsible for vetting resources they use.
"If it's a hyperlink, I need to go there, and I need to make sure I've looked through everything on it. I need to make sure there's there's no bias, I need to make sure that it aligns to the standards. If it doesn't align to the standards, we shouldn't be teaching it. And you know, and I need to make sure that it's effective, that there's a purpose for it," she said.