Schools need to be open about curriculum to fight Illinois student declines

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
July 9, 2024

Schools need to be open about curriculum to fight Illinois student declines

Illinois students’ reading and math proficiency have yet to rebound from pandemic losses. Illinois parents have a right to know what their children are being taught so they can be part of the solution.

Illinois public education is in trouble: just 35% of third- through eighth-grade students could read at grade level in 2023, according to the Illinois State Board of Education’s Illinois Report Card.

Only 27% met proficiency in math.

While that’s up from 2022, students’ ability to read and do math at grade level has yet to rebound to the levels before the pandemic-era school closures.

While there are many ideas on how to improve student academic achievement, there’s one thing school districts can do now to help parents better assist their students: maintain a policy of curriculum transparency.

Studies have shown students do better academically when their parents are involved. As the Harvard Graduate School of Education reports, “several decades of research points to several benefits of family involvement for children’s learning, including helping children get ready to enter school, promoting their school success and preparing youth for college.” Children who have parental support with homework tend to perform better in the classroom.

But it’s hard for parents to provide support when they aren’t fully aware of what is being taught, especially as many districts move from textbooks to digital materials. Individual school districts can address this problem now without waiting for the state to pass legislation.

District policies on curriculum transparency are a reasonable first step in better ensuring parents have the foundational tools they need to be actively involved in their students’ lives. Such transparency would bring both accountability to school districts as well as improve the relationship between parents and district teachers and administrators.

Here are two steps districts could take to ensure parents know what their kids are being taught and are equipped to step in and help them work toward academic success.

Step one: Online transparency

In Illinois, local school boards have control over curriculum and other policy decisions. Therefore, creating a curriculum transparency policy falls directly under their authority.

Each school district should disclose on its website the following information:

  • The procedures it uses related to lesson plans. How are lesson plans documented, reviewed and approved?
  • A listing of the teaching and staff training materials and activities used during the school year. What is the focus of professional development for the year?
  • A listing of the learning materials and activities used for student instruction, organized by subject, grade and teacher. What textbooks, articles, videos, websites and other materials are being used in the classroom, in assemblies, etc.?

Such a policy would not require the digital reproduction of the materials cited but would provide a starting point for parents and community members wanting to know what is being taught during the school year.

Step two: Parental access

Parents seeking to better understand what their children are being taught deserve access to the materials. A robust curriculum transparency policy would include access to materials upon written request. It would also include time for the district to respond without burdening its normal operating procedures.

Traditional textbooks were easier for parents to access. With many schools now using digital technology, the policy should include providing temporary remote access or login credentials to materials for review for at least a 24-hour period. The district could use collaborative spreadsheet software or other means to provide the information through a point person or office worker without further burdening teachers.

The school board should also commit only to contract with material providers, including subscription-based materials, that allow parents and guardians of enrolled students to review the materials.

Establishing such a policy would demonstrate the district values and encourages transparency between parents and the schools. It would show a school district is making every effort to be open with parents and involve them in their children’s educations.

A model policy on curriculum transparency can be obtained by emailing the Illinois Policy Institute at

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!