At the heart of standards-based education lie academic content standards. Content standards specify what students should know and be able to do, typically by grade level. By extension, they also specify what schools should teach.
Ideally, these standards are rigorous and based on widely held agreements about the educational goals of the system. In theory, they balance educators' and scholars' professional judgment about what constitutes challenging, important content with the views of parents, the business community, and the public about what young people need to learn.This balance can be difficult to achieve because of the range of opinions about what students should learn.
In California, educators develop a framework for thethat should be taught based on the content standards. The framework, a blueprint for schools to use to implement the state-adopted content standards, is designed to guide the selection of curriculum materials and actual classroom instruction.
Teachers, in turn, must have a firm grasp of this more demanding content to teach it to their students. They must also know how to effectively use the selected curriculum materials and how to develop instructional strategies to help all students achieve the standards. State policies related toand can be used to help bring the expectations for teachers into better alignment with the academic content standards.
Standards setting in CaliforniaUnder the provisions of state law, the California State Board of Education (SBE) began developing the state's official content standards in the mid-1990s. By 1999, the SBE had adopted statewide academic content standards in the four core content areas:
- English Language Arts,
- History/Social Science, and
Although technically voluntary, California's academic standards are so infused throughout the state's public education system that there is a strong incentive for schools to adopt them. The standards form the basis for the state's. The frameworks outline a course of study for use by local school districts. Frameworks also guide state and local textbook adoption processes and professional development programs. California's mandatory Standardized Testing and Reporting ( ) Program and the California High School Exit Exam ( ), which are administered to students statewide, are also based on the content standards. In other words, California's academic content standards are intended to drive what is taught and tested in California public schools. As such, they are pivotal to both state and federal school accountability policies.
Since 1999, the state has also adopted standards and curriculum frameworks for visual/performing arts, physical education, health, and career-technical education (). In addition, California has adopted standards (but not frameworks) for English Language Development. It has also adopted curriculum frameworks for health and foreign language instruction.
The curriculum adoption process
Historically in California, the school board in each local district was responsible for determining the subjects to teach and how to teach them, within the parameters set by the state. As a result of standards-based reform and accountability for results, state requirements and recommendations now have a strong influence on local choices.
First, the state specifies some subjects that all California public schools must teach and, as explained above, adopts standards for what students need to know and be able to do at specific stages in school. Second, the SBE approves a curriculum framework for each subject. Finally, the SBE recommends curriculum materials and instructional approaches.
For grades K–8, the SBE adopts textbooks and other instructional materials for each subject area and each grade level. The state gives school districts funds to purchase materials, and a district must choose a percentage of its textbooks from the approved list in order to receive those funds. (Districts can request a waiver if they find non-adopted materials more appropriate for their schools and can convince the SBE they are correct in that.) For high schools, the SBE approves a set of curriculum standards, with which all high schools must compare their curricula for each subject and grade level every three years. Within these constraints, the local school board decides on its own schools' textbooks and curriculum. In addition, textbook publishers create standards maps to show how these materials cover the standards, and high schools are supposed to use the maps to guide their decisions.
The California Department of Education maintains a master calendar for the adoption of standards, curriculum frameworks, and textbooks. It typically takes three to four years from the time the development of the framework begins until new textbooks are approved, selected, purchased, and in place in classrooms.