Caryn Sullivan: It’s time for transparency and accountability in education

More and more parents are paying attention. They’re asking questions about what their kids are learning — or not learning — and why so many students are so undisciplined.

Education Minnesota's headquarters in St. Paul, Minn. (Alpha News)

Less than two months after they returned to classrooms, students across Minnesota will miss two or more days of school this week. It’s MEA — the fall break families either dread or eagerly anticipate, depending on whether they can fit in a quick trip to Disney World or whether they’ll struggle to find childcare.

As ACT scores and standardized test scores plummet, Education Minnesota will kick off its annual convention with a keynote address about “the intersection of education and politics.” Teachers will also learn about recent Supreme Court decisions in a session titled “The Supreme Court did what?” Teachers union attorneys will discuss “hot button issues, including abortion rights, gun control, vouchers and prayer in school” and explain why these decisions are important to educators, students, and families.

Using literature and “persona dolls,” teachers will learn how to talk to young children about gender identity and expression and how to support gender-expansive and transgender children. Will they learn about the book “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel depicting oral sex and masturbation? It’s currently available to students in the Hastings school district.

I’ve always wondered about the convention. How many teachers attend it? Why is it held in October, rather than in July or late December when students are already missing school? MEA is fine for families with flexible schedules. But what about students whose parents work on Thursday and Friday or students who have fallen behind? How do two — or three — days off (as in Minneapolis) advance the ball for them?

I’m not the only one who is questioning Education Minnesota’s priorities. More and more parents are paying attention. They’re asking questions about what their kids are learning — or not learning — and why so many students are so undisciplined.

Lisa Atkinson is one of them. The mother of three students who have been or are currently enrolled in Prior Lake schools, Atkinson is like many parents who have become engaged at the local level. She saw a major shift in how the district held students accountable. With mental health issues escalating, she was disturbed by how few resources were available to students.

She began attending school board meetings. She asked questions. She voiced concerns and opinions about issues ranging from COVID policy to mental health support. She saw how often the seven-member school board voted unanimously on issues with little discussion.

She became concerned about the lack of transparency. What happened to millions of dollars of COVID relief that was supposed to be spent on mental health services? Why was the school board voting on a gender inclusion policy at a meeting that was not advertised and not open to the public?

Atkinson realized how much school board policies impact students, teachers, and families, and how things were happening in the schools that parents were unaware of. So, she put her name on the ballot. As she door knocks throughout her district, Atkinson advocates for greater discussion and debate about vital issues.

One of nine candidates competing for four open school board seats in Prior Lake, Atkinson considers herself a “common sense” candidate. Though she didn’t earn an endorsement by the teachers union, she did get the support of Minnesota Parents Alliance.

A relatively new player in the education arena, Minnesota Parents Alliance (MPA) is nonpartisan, parent founded, and parent run. With Cristine Trooien at the helm, the Alliance is bringing together parents who share concerns about academic achievement and parental rights. It’s offering an alternative to the powerful state and local teachers unions, which effectively endorse candidates who fit their profile.

To help voters select candidates whose values align, MPA created a School Board Voter Guide in which it identifies more than 100 candidates from around the state who have earned its endorsement. Trooien urges all voters to look at it before they cast their ballots.

School board races don’t garner as much attention as statewide races. But education is changing rapidly. Whether or not one has students in schools, what’s happening in our schools today will impact our state and our country tomorrow.

Taking steps to ensure our students are safe; that everyone is held accountable; and that those in positions of power provide transparency is one of the most important things voters will do this year.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not represent an official position of Alpha News. 

 

Caryn Sullivan

A retired attorney and author of the award-winning memoir, "Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page," Caryn Sullivan has inspired readers with her thoughtful commentary for the past two decades. To learn more about Caryn’s work or to connect, visit carynmsullivan.com