Teacher ‘busy work bill’ heads to Senate as opposition mounts

By: - May 6, 2021 4:30 pm

The House has approved a bill requiring school districts with more than 400 students to post educational materials used by teachers “prominently” on school websites. The Senate is expected to hear House Bill 755 next week.

The House approved the so-called Academic Transparency bill late Wednesday on a 66-50 vote with Republicans voting in favor of it and 50 Democrats voting against it. One Republican, Matthew Winslow, who represents Franklin and Nash counties, voted against the bill.

The bill requires teachers to post textbooks and other reading materials as well as videos, digital materials and other applications used in classrooms on school websites. It also requires them to post lesson plans from the previous year.

Teachers would post educational materials at the end of the school year so parents can review them before the next academic year starts. The posted information would be a list of instructional materials with identifying information, but not include copies of the material.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell

Bill sponsor, Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Republican from Burke County, contends HB 755 will improve academic outcomes for students by involving parents in their children’s education.

“This is a bill to try and take better advantage of what research, I think establishes, works very well for children and that is the involvement and engagement of their parents in their education,” Blackwell said. “The idea is to make a way for parents to, without having to go to the schoolhouse, without having to go to school officials, be able to go online and see what is being offered in their students’ classes.”

Critics say HB 755 is a veiled attempt to prevent students from learning hard truths about slavery, racial discrimination and systemic racism. The bill comes after the controversial adoption of new state social study standards that require teachers to offer diverse viewpoints when discussing American history.

Rep. Kandie Smith

“All of this is based on we don’t want our kids to learn a certain part of history, which is very troubling to me,” said State Rep. Kandie D. Smith, a Democrat from Pitt County. “History is what you can’t erase. Whether you want your kid to learn it in school or not, you can’t erase it.”

The NC Association of Educators opposes the bill, calling it a slap across the face with debate about it coming during “Teacher Appreciation Week.”

“This completely unnecessary and unimaginably burdensome law would require teachers and school districts to post online a comprehensive list of all teaching, classroom and assignment materials used by every teacher in every class session,” the NCAE said in a message to teachers.

The association launched a letter writing campaign demanding that the Senate vote against HB 755.  More than 2,000 letters have been sent to lawmakers. The NCAE set a goal of 3,200 letters.

“Tell the Senate that North Carolina will not stand for yet another law that disrespects teachers and further undermines their ability to do their jobs,” the NCAE said of the bill it renamed the “BusyworkBill.”

Rep. Zach Hawkins, a Democrat from Durham, a former teacher, said information about what students are learning in classrooms is already widely available.

Teachers must already produce lesson plans, create syllabi and follow the state Standard of Course of Study, Hawkins said.

“How will this bill help elevate the conversation about what’s already being taught when its already public,” Hawkins said.

While Blackwell touts the bill as a benefit to parents to help bolster academic achievement, Rep. Jeffrey McNeely, an Iredell County Republican, believes it will alert parents when teachers attempt to indoctrinate students with political views or teach critical race theory.

“To me, this will help the parents going to the next grade be able to look and see what that teacher taught the year before, and hopefully we’re just going teach the kids and we’re not going to try to indoctrinate them and teach them in a certain way to make them believe something other than the facts, the knowledge and the ability to write and the ability to read,” McNeely said.

Student indoctrination has been a popular theme in the state’s GOP circles since the State Board of Education approved new social studies standards in February.

The standards were heavily criticized by Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson who quickly assembled a task force to end what he calls the political indoctrination of students in classrooms.

Robinson, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, was taken to task by Black Democrats in January after he called the standards “divisive” and “politically charged” and claimed systemic racism doesn’t exist.

This year, Republican legislatures across the nation have introduced bills that would restrict educators’ ability to teach about systemic racism, sexism, bias and similar topics.

In Tennessee, the House of Representatives debated a bill this week that would ban classroom discussions about systemic racism. The state would withhold funding to schools that taught about systemic racism and white privilege under the bill.

The Tennessee House approved the bill along party lines with Republicans voting in favor of it while Democrats opposed it. The Senate, however, declined to accept the legislation.

Republican-led legislatures in Oklahoma, Texas, Idaho and other states have introduced similar bills.

Khalilah Harris, acting vice president for K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, said GOP lawmakers are searching for a problem that doesn’t exist.

“Talking about racism, sexism, or homophobia doesn’t create racism, sexism, or homophobia; neither does centering the voices of people most affected by systemic forms of bias in academic instruction,” Harris said. “To the contrary, this approach empowers students to leave the classroom with a more informed understanding of our history, people’s lived experiences, and how they can limit the influence of bias in their own lives.”

Harris said the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the numerous media platforms available to extremist to spread “lies and dangerous ideologies” make it critical to tell children the truth about the nation’s past.

“It is more important than ever that our schools do not equivocate in discussing our history and the difference between right and wrong,” Harris said.

Harris added that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal civil rights law, requires schools to offer rigorous and effective instruction.

“Imposing a gag order that requires educators to teach false content or that bars them from discussing racism in schools that were segregated less than seven decades ago, some having returned to being segregated today—and that, to this day, suspend students of color at disproportionate rates—makes that impossible,” she said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Greg Childress
Greg Childress

Education Reporter Greg Childress covers all aspects of public education in North Carolina, including debates over school funding, curricula, privatization, and teacher pay and licensing.