ASTA opposes HB1231 – Read the testimony to the House Education Committee
posted by: Tamia | February 09, 2021, 10:43 PM   

I am Michele Linch, Executive Director of the Arkansas State Teachers Association and it’s important to note today that I have PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. ASTA is a non-union, non-partisan educators association serving Arkansas teachers and other school employees. As a member driven association with thousands of members, you can imagine our feedback from them has been both passionately for and against this bill. But two issues membership surveys consistently confirm are the importance of local control and the need for high-quality instructional materials.

Today I’m going to be process hard and Project soft. Legislation needs to solve a problem and its outcomes, at the end of the day, result in effective and necessary policy.   Targeting one particular resource would not result in effective policy and it would not solve the root problem. HB1231 sets a precedent for legislation that targets single projects and writings and hurts local control, where the responsibility for curriculum development lies. These reasons alone make this legislation not good for Arkansas education.

A quality curriculum must have a scholarly foundation. We start with factual information and resources, peer reviewed by experts so that true learning and critical analysis and thinking is possible. A well-informed citizen is one who can more effectively analyze opinion and not-so-scholarly works such as journalistic and media products. It seems more and more our education system is falling into an abyss of resources produced by people who are agenda driven, not information driven, and/or who do not have the expertise or fully understand the structure of the discipline to which they speak.  But central to quality curriculum is the standards-based selection of topics, issues, resources and activities. Be it a textbook, article, base ten blocks, work of literature, or movie, choosing resources can be a daunting task and requires purposeful and thoughtful selection.

What could help tackle the issues this legislation is attempting to address would be the development of comprehensive guidance on the procedural, analytical, developmental, and ethical considerations to employ when developing curriculum and selecting resources that support curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Today the resource is the 1619 Project. The 1619 Project has strong merits. It raises viewpoints that warrant discussion and analysis. It focuses on an era not given its due in terms of time or significance.

We also know, as Senator Chesterfield, a former history teacher, noted in the black legislative caucus meeting on February 1st, that “this is a journalism piece” and it has inaccuracies. Historians criticize the document for significant and misleading inaccuracies. The author of the Project asserts it is not “history” but “journalism”. This is the type of examination that again, not only needs to conducted for this particular project, but any resource a district or teacher is considering utilizing in the classroom.

I would submit that Arkansas teachers and parents do not want to be inundated with agenda-driven or national media developed curriculum, lesson plans, and student activities. And we’ve long known textbooks contain inaccuracies and conveniently skip, marginalize, and downplay significant topics and issues. I was a professor at UA-Little Rock before I learned that Arkansas had Japanese internment camps during WWII, and my K-16 education was in Arkansas.  I know the feeling of being cheated out of history. I felt betrayed. As we work to do and be better in all content areas we must proceed with the understanding that it is the ethical and professional obligation of all educators to ensure curriculum resources, instructional techniques, and learning activities are carefully selected and utilized in ways that do no harm while facilitating learning and critical thinking grounded in factual information.

At the end of the day, curriculum and resource selection is a local decision. We encourage DESE and those serving schools in curriculum support roles to ensure its guidance to districts reflects the procedural, analytical, developmental, and ethical considerations to follow when developing curriculum and selecting resources to support curriculum, instruction, and assessment. We have an ethical and professional obligation to ensure educators and children have scholarly based academic rigor and relevance as the foundation to learning.  Thank you.

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