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Arizona bill would require teachers to plan, post all lessons a year in advance

A group of education bills are currently working their way through the Arizona Legislature, including a mandate that teachers post lesson plans and backup assignments for every teaching day in advance of the school year.

SB1058, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, would require district and charter schools to post a list of procedures used by schools administrators to review and approve learning materials and the procedures by which a parent could review learning materials, or clearly state to parents that no such procedures exist.

In the case of schools where materials are reviewed, the procedures and lesson plans would need to be posted on the school website by July 1, in advance of the new school year. Schools would also be required to provide at least one copy of all instructional material for parents to review off school grounds for a 48 hour period.

Charter schools would be allowed to require that parents waive the right to object, as long as the school provides a list of materials to be used before student enrollment. Charter schools would also be allowed to require any request to review materials or withdraw students be made in writing.

Parents who object to any part of a curriculum on the basis that it might be harmful can ask to withdraw that student from the activity or class and have them complete an alternative assignment.

According to the Arizona Education Association, "SB1058 will limit the ability of teachers to use their professional judgment in order to do their jobs in the classroom." Many teachers adapt weekly lesson plans based on student needs and a pre-approved yearly plan would allow not allow educators to make changes.

"If you think teaching is an art, this would be like making DaVinci use a color-by-numbers book, "said Hoyt Herndon, a math teacher at Picture Rocks Elementary School. "If it requires teachers to file lesson plans for the whole year, before the year starts... how would that even work? The way it seems most likely to be realized is something like 'the school districts have a website with links to their curricula and materials.' Then they'll put so many things on the website that no one would ever want to sift through it all."

"Good teaching is not planned a year in advance," said According to Kristel Foster, a program specialist in the Language Acquisition Department for Sunnyside Unified School District. "The best educators are focused on teaching kids, not curriculum. Meaning, they pay close attention to students’ abilities and interests and make adjustments each step of the way. If the material is too easy or too hard, or not relevant or connected to kids’ lives, they fill in those gaps immediately."

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"We should legislate funding to train teachers how to adjust curriculum effectively, not the busy work of copying scopes and sequences from textbooks for the sake of complying with such a law," said Foster, a former member of the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board.

TUSD officials did not provide responses to questions about the bill.

Supporters of the bill, modeled on the Academic Transparency Act proposed by the conservative Goldwater Institute, say it will allow parents to know what is being taught in classrooms.

“It is critical now more than ever, in these days of Critical Race Theory, comprehensive sex education, the 1619 Project and so many other radical agendas being pushed into the classrooms by administrators, teachers and the unions, that parents must be able to trust that curricula will be made available in advance or if not then immediately upon request,” said former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas.

However, a state law, ARS 15-730 ("Access to instructional material by parents and guardians"), already allows parents to review curriculum:

On written request, school personnel designated by the governing board shall permit parents or guardians access to instructional materials currently used by or being considered for use by the school district by making available at least one copy of the instructional material for review by the parents or guardians. Parents or guardians may take printed textbooks, printed supplementary books and printed subject matter materials from the school district premises for a period of not more than forty-eight hours. Parents or guardians may review all other materials, including films, only on the school district premises.

The bill also states there is no anticipated fiscal impact to the state, but makes no mention of costs that the proposed law would impose on schools as they complied with the requirements.

SB 1058 passed a party-line 16-14 vote of the Republican-controlled Senate and has been passed to the House where it assigned to the Education and Rules committee for consideration.

Also passing the Senate were two bills related to education funding. SB 1108 would incrementally lower commercial property tax, a main source of funding for school districts. The bill's supporters say the lost revenue to the state and local districts would be offset by the state's ability to attract new businesses. SB 1783 allows an alternative business tax, effectively avoiding the income tax surcharge passed in 2020 by voter-approved Prop. 208.

Under SB 1456, schools would not be required to offer sex education classes and would mandate parental consent for sex education or any classes dealing with sexual identity/gender expression and HIV/AIDS education. This would change Arizona from the current "opt-out" system to an opt-in model. Information on HIV/AIDS would be banned for students before grade 5.

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The bills passed the Senate March 3, the day Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order mandating schools return to in-person instruction by March 15, leaving educators scrambling with the last-minute decision.

“It’s a 12-day turnaround, but for a lot of districts it’s less than a week because they have spring break coming up,” said Chris Kotterman, government relations director of the Arizona School Boards Association. “They are not able to have their contracted staff work during spring break; it’s not in their contract to do so.”

According to "Making The Grade 2020" a study on school funding published by the Education Law Center, Arizona is last in the nation in cost-adjusted per pupil funding. Arizona spent an average of $9,046 per student, $5,503 below the national average. New York, the state with the highest per pupil funding level, spent $25,457 per student.

Arizona is also experiencing a severe teacher shortage. An Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association survey in 2020 indicates about 28 percent of teacher vacancies across the state remain unfilled while half of the vacancies are filled by teachers who do not meet the state’s standard certification requirements.

TucsonSentinel.com’s Maria Coxon-Smith contributed to this report.

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