A transparency and accountability revolution could be coming to Maine’s public schools if a proposal backed by several lawmakers on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee wins enough support to become law.
L.D. 1129 — “An Act to Enact the Curriculum Transparency Act” — would require the creation of an online transparency portal that would allow parents to access student test data, classroom materials, curriculum content, and even records and details related to third-party contractors hired by the school.
The proposal would give parents and policymakers unprecedented insight into how schools operate.
For the first time in the history of Maine’s public school system, taxpayers would get an in-depth, data-driven look at how schools spend money, how students have performed over time, and whether Maine’s education system is succeeding — or failing — to prepare Maine’s students for college and the workforce.
The transparency program would be wildly popular with Maine voters.
The Maine Wire / Co/Efficient polling has shown a vast bipartisan majority of Maine voters think public schools should place curriculum content on the Internet so parents can see what their children are being taught, including most majorities of both parties’ voters.
But it remains to be seen whether the legislature, which is controlled by Democrats and their powerful allies in the teachers’ unions, will get behind the proposal.
L.D. 1129 was sponsored by Rep. Heidi Sampson (R-Alfred), a former member of Maine’s Board of Education.
So far only Republican lawmakers have joined her in supporting the transparency push.
The bill’s other supporters include: Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin), Sen. Marianne Moore (R-Washington), Rep. Edward Polewarczyk (R-Wiscasset), Rep. Barbara Bagshaw (R-Windham), Rep. Gary Drinkwater (R-Milford), Rep. Kathy Javner (R-Chester), Rep. Michael Lemelin (R-Chelsea), and Rep. Katrina Smith (R-Palermo).
If passed, the bill would require local school boards to adopt policies that ensure content used in the classroom is available for the public to inspect online.
Professional development services and other programming involving a third-party would now be subject to greater transparency as well.
Currently, schools have no obligation to be proactively transparent about which firms they’re hiring for professional development. Nor do they have to provide the public with information about third-party contractors they’re bringing into the school, unless that information is specifically requested under the Freedom of Access Act.
Going through the FOAA process can take months. For example, the Maine Wire has requested recordings of professional development seminars administered by the Maine Department of Education, including Zoom video recordings with contractors, but those records still have not been turned over after nearly six months.
Outside contractors are often used to coach teachers on how to use new pedagogical techniques or teach new content, including controversial new programs like social-emotional learning and content based on race and gender. Those seminars are couched in terms of “cultural sensitivity training,” but they’re often used as a vehicle to bring progressive political ideas and experimental programs into schools.
Sampson’s bill would also require all of these programs to be open to the public and video recorded, with the video going online for at least three years. And every program involving outside entities would require pre-approval by the school board.
Student performance would also become far more transparent if Sampson’s bill passed. That is, parents of students — or parents of prospective students — would be able to use a simple online portal to see how students at a given school have performed in recent years.
That means a family looking to move to Maine doesn’t need to scrounge around on the Internet trying to find a school ranking list from a random website or magazine.
Instead, they could simply pull up the transparency portal for a given school district and see for themselves how effective that school’s teachers have been at educating students.
The bill would require schools post three years worth of data on how students performed on state assessments.
Right now, student assessment transparency is headed in the opposite direction.
There has been some controversy in Maine over student testing because the Maine Department of Education made changes to state testing that were not in line with federal requirements.
As a result, the federal Department of Education has threatened to withhold Title 1A funding from Maine’s Education Department.
At a public hearing on Wednesday, Commissioner Makin initially denied that Maine students’ test scores had fallen in recent years.
However, because of the changes made to student testing in Maine, it’s harder for parents to make an apples-to-apples comparisons with student data collected in recent years.
Some student testing data is available for inspection through the federally mandated Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) portal operated by the state.
But the portal is glitchy, inconsistent, and very user-unfriendly. (See for yourself.)
Sampson’s bill would also restrict schools from offering coursework based on social-emotional learning concepts or racial equity ideas sometimes described as Critical Race Theory.
Under the bill, schools would be required to offer classes and curriculum materials that “ensure schools meet the purpose of education as provided in the Constitution of Maine and disseminate the knowledge needed to ensure the rights and liberties of United States citizens in the State.”