By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House Education Committee, on Tuesday, engaged in contentious debate regarding a bill that would require public schools to publish curriculum online at the beginning of every school year.
Sponsored by Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, SB 422 would also mandate that public school teachers create a syllabus listing all required reading for the class, and make their classroom resources available for inspection by parents or guardians of students.
A significant point of contention surrounding the bill was Del. Wayne Clark’s, R-Jefferson, proposed amendment which would authorize county school districts to outsource this work to contractors, rather than having staff members do it. Proponents of the amendment argued that it would be a “cost savings” measure for the state, and allow school staff to focus their attention on other duties, while detractors believed the amendment was intended to allow third-parties to profit from the public education system.
Another concern raised by W.Va. School Board Association Executive Director Jim Brown, is the potential for copyright infringement.
“There’s a lot of different things that fall under ‘curriculum,’” Brown told the committee. “Lessons, assignments, materials used to teach a particular course – some would assume it could be a textbook or a workbook.”
“Are we broadening (the definition of curriculum) to be all inclusive?” Brown asked. “If we are, then it’s a copyright issue.”
Brown noted that both Houghton Mifflin and McGraw Hill textbook publishers have “expressed concern if the intent is to broaden this to where textbooks and other supplemental materials – instructional materials – would be posted in a manner that would allow access to the general public.”
“It would have to be student-specific and password protected,” Brown added. “If you can post it on a website and copy-and-paste content, then you’re coming pretty close to copyright infringement. “
At the conclusion of Brown’s remarks, Del. Elliot Pritt, D-Fayette, said, “If the goal is transparency, that would imply that what we’re doing currently is opaque or nontransparent.”
“Is there already transparency in the process?” Pritt asked Brown. “Is there any parent being told they cannot access or view their child’s curriculum right now? “
“No, that would not be true,” Brown answered. “All parents and students have the ability to access their child’s curriculum.”
Del. Todd Lonanacre, R-Greenbrier, then asked if the amendment contains any language stating that school teachers would face no additional burdens as the result of the bill’s passage, and if bidding would be required of any outside contractor publishing curriculum. The answer to both of Longanacre’s questions was no.
Clark’s amendment was adopted by a vote of 16 to five, and debate began on the bill proper.
Dale Lee, former teacher and current president of the W.Va. Education Association, while speaking in opposition of the bill, said, “Some of my best lessons were when kid’s questions would take me in a different direction from what I’d intended to do.”
“My fear is the ability to do that as a teacher [will be taken away], by having a complaint that says ‘that’s not what it says in your curriculum,’” Lee noted. “You all have bills everyday that have committee substitutes and are amended, and the committee substitutes are not available to anybody sitting in the audience until after you all pass it. Should we complain that that’s not transparent?”
“That’s the process, right?” Lee asked committee members. “Well it’s the same process in the classroom when I, as a teacher, decide to have the students take me in a different direction in conversations. I don’t worry about people having access to the curriculum – they have that now. If you’re that concerned about your child’s curriculum, go talk to the teacher.”
“This is going to be, to me, another burden that the teachers are going to have to do,” Lee concluded. “I know that teachers offer a wide range of curriculum across West Virginia, but it’s open to anyone who wants to come and [talk about it].”
Despite a motion to table the bill until its financial impact could be accurately determined, SB 422 was adopted by the Education Committee, and will now be referred to the full House of Delegates for further consideration.