CADDO PARISH, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Louisiana teachers are voicing concerns over the controversial House Bill 75, introduced by Alexandria Republican Rep. Lance Harris in February. The bill cites transparency concerns in the classroom, but many teachers see the legislation as unnecessary and potentially harmful.
Louisiana is one of many states where Republican lawmakers proposed legislation requiring schools to post their course materials online before the school year begins. The nationwide push for these new laws comes amid an ongoing national debate over teaching issues relating to race, sexuality, and diversity.
Rep. Harris says the bill is designed to provide transparency for parents, giving them online access to the materials being taught in the classroom. He says throughout COVID, parents became more involved in their students’ lessons.
“I’ve got some calls from parents saying that, ‘Hey, it’d be nice if we had that information readily available for us to see online,'” Harris said. “I had one parent that was concerned about some age-inappropriate reading material, and that was, their concern was, ‘Well, you know, we didn’t know they were going to present this material,’ and that was the parent’s opinion.”
Red River United president Jackie Lansdale says the bill is a “cookie-cutter piece of legislation that doesn’t fit Louisiana.”
“All of this is already approved,” Landsdale said. “Parents are already on those committees.”
An amendment, authored by Harris and published Wednesday, states lesson plans and materials copyrightable by the teachers are not included in the bill. HB 75 would require bibliographical information such as textbooks, essays, articles, and activities involving those outside the school to be listed in the new system.
“That was the, a lot of the associations and such were saying that when this bill first dropped. And from my very first interview about this bill, I said, as an author, I will not let it overburden the teachers or, you know, be another burden to them. They have enough to deal with, and so, this amendment will, in fact, should alleviate any concerns that they have.”
Louisiana Believes already requires these things to be publicly available and is mandatory for teachers to use, says Lansdale, adding HB 75 would only further complicate things.
Harris said Louisiana Believes is cumbersome when asked how this bill differs from the system teachers are already using. He hopes the bill will streamline the information to make it more readily and easily accessible to parents.
“This bill wants it narrowed down to grade level so the parent knows if their child is in third grade, they’re seeing what a third-grader, what their textbooks are, what their materials and, you know, their assigned materials, reading, assignments, articles, and essays, etc.”
He hopes they will make changes to the existing sites but says his bill will establish a separate system to be used in addition to them. School governing authorities would be responsible for posting the materials to their websites, under the proposed legislation.
Educators are concerned these new bills will make the teacher shortage crisis worse. Schools are already filling positions with permanent substitutes as districts have had trouble filling vacancies. Teaching advocates in Texas are already pushing back against new testing requirements there. A recent study released by the Texas American Federation of Teachers showed 66% of the 3,800 members it surveyed in November said they have recently considered leaving their jobs.
In March, the Caddo Parish School Board voted to add another five days onto the 2022-2023 school year for all elementary and middle school students. Chief Academic Officer Keith Burton says the added days are needed to give teachers time to complete beginning-of-the-year diagnostics, student learning targets, and give students time to learn foundational skills. But some teachers don’t want the change. The extra days are controversial because, even though teachers will be paid for them, they say they are already at their limit and need a break.
A recent Facebook post by a Bossier Parish middle school English teacher echoed the sentiments of many other educators posted online in states where similar legislation has been introduced.
“People need to wake up,” Casey Atkins Williamson said. “We have an education system that is already in distress as qualified educators and administrators continue to leave this profession. They are leaving because their expertise is not trusted. It’s micromanaged and it’s done by people like Rep. Lance Harris (R) who think they know what public education is.”
Lansdale also says this new legislation will make teachers more likely to leave their positions.
Harris says his proposed amendment should address those concerns by making the school boards responsible for implementing the new policies. A blueprint for how the new system is to be carried out will be up to each school board to decide. However, Lansdale says this is putting the focus in the wrong place. The Louisiana Department of Education decides what materials are used in classrooms. If there are concerns with them, Rep. Harris should address that with the LDOE, she asserts, instead of focusing on the teachers.
Williamson says every class is different, and educators need to individualize their instruction to meet students’ needs.
“Last week is a prime example of why this bill is ludicrous and insulting to me as an educator. I’ve taught the same ELA units for the past three years. Last Wednesday, while cleaning up for night at 11:30 pm, I had an idea. I knew my students engaged with the reading that day and I wanted to assess what I knew they learned. So, at midnight, I sat down at my computer and created a paragraph outline to assess reading comprehension and the concept of conflicting ideas. I used an outline structure approved by our state curriculum but I tweaked it to my students’ needs and the lesson at hand. At 12:30 am, I closed my laptop after creating a slideshow to post for the students and use while explaining the assignment. On Thursday, they aced it. Students who had struggled to write a paragraph this year, wrote one. They felt accomplished. House Bill 75 wants to take that away from me and from my students simply because I didn’t post it in August.”Casey Atkins Williamson – 8th grade English teacher
In response to teachers’ concerns about the need to adapt their lessons, Harris said, “They’d continue to do that. This bill won’t have any impact or bearing on that whatsoever because the amendment made it clear.”
There are no guidelines on changing bibliographical resources in the bill or the amendment. Policies and procedures for approving materials and activities must be posted. Still, there is no specific language on how changes to materials and activities are to be handled as it is written.
Lansdale says this is the latest political struggle that has caught educators in the middle. A previous example was the rollout of the Common Core curriculum in 2010, which she says was a popular buzzword but turned out poorly for many students.
Despite the changes, the Program for International Student Assessment says American students’ abilities on the test haven’t shown any significant growth over the last 10 years. When asked if this may be the case, Harris said it is strictly about the materials to which children are being exposed to.
“And, as far as the national movement, 19 other states have filed these kinds of bills and I think part of that’s because 90% of American families entrust their children to public schools. So they want to know. Parents in this day and time want to know what their children are being exposed to.”
Concerns from teachers and parents brought to the Red River Teachers’ Association have been discussed with local legislators. Williamson also encourages the public to contact Harris for information at firstname.lastname@example.org or (318) 767-6095. Lansdale encourages anyone concerned about what’s happening in the classroom to sit in and observe classes. Those interested should contact the central office and will need to pass a background check.
The following are links to existing Louisiana laws related to parents’ rights to information and teachers’ rights on what they can be asked to do:
- RS 17:355 – Parental access to instructional materials
- RS 17:406.9 – Parents’ Bill of Rights for Public Schools
- RS 17:354 – Academic Improvement Fund; creation; purpose; uses
- RS: 17:416 – Teacher Bill of Rights
The 2022 Louisiana Legislative Session will convene on Monday, March 14, and adjourn no later than Monday, June 6.