We’ve all seen video footage from school board meetings that capture the frustration and righteous indignation of parents who have discovered their childrens’ schools are teaching less than savory lessons in the classroom. While there have been many local victories across the country, such as the firing of a teacher by The Natomas Unified School District, it is not enough to exclusively focus on just the districts when academic standards at the state level are being altered to ensure postmodern pedagogy has a permanent home in K-12 schools.
Academic standards are not set on a federal level; they are codified on the state level with public schools expected to teach to these standards. They outline the expected competencies of each student by grade and subject. This means that even the most politically neutral classrooms are subject to this influence. Luckily, understanding these standards and preparing for your next parent teacher-meeting is simple!
Unfortunately, state learning standards are becoming increasingly opaque, leaving cynics to suspect intentional collusion. After all, if the average working parent can’t keep track of the standards, then their attempts to understand or even influence them are left virtually ineffective. So what can the working class parents of America do to ensure a political agenda doesn’t trickle down into their local districts? While this short read will not have all the answers, hopefully it will act as a beginners guide to understanding both how your state’s academic standards influence curricula and how you can learn more during limited spare time between work, dinner, extra-curricular activities, and bedtime rituals.
The first step a busy parent can take to better understand the academic standards in their state is to visit The U.S. Department of Education website and select the appropriate state from their map. After selecting your state you will be redirected to a page listing your state’s Department of Education’s (SDE) address, phone number, and website. Many of the SDE websites will have a link to sign up for email updates so you can have the latest news delivered straight to your inbox. Spending a few minutes a day exploring your SDE’s website will help you learn the landscape so you can easily navigate it when you have a specific and urgent need. If you’re really short on time, you may utilize the search bar located on the homepage to quickly find the information you’re looking for.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your SDE’s website you can begin targeted research on the academic standards that your school district is expected to meet. Many of the standards are quite long, so focus in on the subject and grade that interests you most. For example, the Colorado Academic Standards for Comprehensive Health is 112 pages long. Rather than trying to completely absorb this information, you can focus only on the standards your child’s instructional materials are required to meet. Consider asking other parents to join you in your pursuit – many hands make light work! This approach also helps to build a strong community of allies!
After familiarizing yourself with your state standards, prepare to review them at your next parent-teacher meeting with your child’s educator. It’s important to remember that academic standards are different from curriculum, and specific schools and teachers may have varying curriculum to meet these standards. In the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Comprehensive Health and Physical Education, it is required that a student can “[c]ompare and contrast the physical differences and similarities of the genders” by the end of 2nd grade. This vague requirement could allow politically-charged curriculum to be introduced through radical gender theory. For this reason, you must directly ask what specific curriculum the teacher is using to meet the state standards. Coming prepared with the printed standards will not only act as a discussion outline, it will also signal to the teacher that you take your child’s education seriously.
Reviewing standards isn’t the only thing a parent ought to do, but coming to the next parent teacher conference armed with knowledge of these standards is essential in advocating for the best education for your child.