The Learning Curve is a weekly column that answers questions about schools using plain language. Have a question about how your local schools work? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More than 1,000 people have signed on to a change.org petition objecting to San Diego Unified’s new sex education curriculum, arguing that the content is “too much, too soon.”
The new curriculum was adopted after The California Healthy Youth Act, written by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, went into effect in January 2016.
The law requires comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education in middle and high school, curriculum updates based on new medical research and that sexual education respects and addresses the needs of students of all genders and sexual orientations. It also bars abstinence-only instruction.
Curriculum changes can often be controversial, and their implementation in the classroom can be challenging.
Sometimes changes are mandated through state legislation, like with Weber’s bill, which was inspired in part by a 2015 court ruling striking down Clovis Unified’s abstinence-only curriculum.
Sometimes the state Board of Education decides that the framework guiding how subjects are taught need updates, like the new framework for history and social science that the state has been working on over the past couple of years.
Sometimes the state decides to change curriculum to be more in sync with curriculum in other states, like when California became one of more than 40 states that committed to using Common Core standards beginning in 2014-2015.
At the end of the day, local school districts need to figure out how to bring those changes into the classroom. The state has a process to help districts do that, but sometimes timing issues come into play.
Once there is a change in student standards, an advisory group to the State Board of Education, called the Instructional Quality Commission, develops a framework or guidelines to help teachers implement those standards in the classroom. The framework gives guidance on how to break down the new standards to make them teachable, recommends instructional materials, like textbooks, and provides advice on professional development, student assessments and accountability systems.
The IQC has 18 members, some of whom are appointed by the Board of Education, others who are appointed by other politicians. At least seven of the members should be current K-12 classroom teachers or mentor teachers. Each member serves a four-year term and can’t serve more than one term. The group holds four two-day meetings a year, with additional subcommittee meetings. These are public meetings with notices and agenda, where people can come hear the discussion and speak.
When a curriculum framework needs to be made to match with new standards, the IQC puts together the Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee on the subject matter, a group made up of specialized education experts for the subject curriculum being changed. That committee makes a draft framework, which then goes to the IQC for review in a public hearing.
Once the IQC is happy with the framework, it goes to the State Board of Education, which holds another public hearing. After some back and forth, the Board of Ed eventually adopts the new framework.
Weber’s bill was fairly specific in the changes it required to sexual education, which made it a little less challenging for school districts to update their curriculum, said Jose Iniguez, an assistant superintendent at Fallbrook Unified School District and a member of the Instructional Quality Commission. But the IQC’s scheduled revision of the health education framework isn’t until 2019.
“That bill was specific enough where one could say, we have to cover 1, 2, 3, 4,” Iniguez said. “But bills aren’t always that clear. Sometimes with broader changes, schools are expected to implement standards before the state has been able to provide guidance.”
That happens quite frequently, said Iniguez.
“When you tell a teacher, ‘Hey, guess what? We have new standards.’ They may be great, but you have new standards and you don’t have a framework, and you and your students will be assessed on those new standards in two years. It’s quite frustrating for teachers,” he said.
Local Ed Roundup
• In the wake of former superintendent John Collins’ departure, Poway Unified School District has taken some proactive steps to head off future financial problems. But VOSD’s Ashly McGlone reports that a newly released audit shows internal controls are still lacking in the district, meaning district funds remain vulnerable to abuse, fraud and waste.
• A psychology professor at SDSU writes that teenagers are lonelier and more depressed than previous generations because of their heavy smartphone and social media use. (The Atlantic)
• KPBS talks to state Sen. Anthony Portantino, author of a bill that would prohibit middle and high schools from starting classes before 8:30 a.m.
Other Ed News
• The latest advantage awarded to students at affluent suburban schools? Grade inflation that keeps their low-income peers even further behind. (The Hechinger Report)
• There could be a nationwide shortfall of 112,000 teachers by 2018, with math and special education facing the most severe shortages. In California, a few bills in the Legislature aim to address the state’s teacher shortage. (CNN, CALMatters)
• Estimates of the prevalence of dyslexia range from 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population — that means between 300,000 and 1.2 million children could have dyslexia in California public schools. After years of lobbying from parents who watched their kids struggle, California outlined what dyslexia is and what interventions have proven effective for teachers. (EdSource)
• Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, who represents East Bay communities, held a roundtable this week to discuss how racism and hate shows up in school, the role that education can play in addressing racism and hate, and the resources educators require in the light of the events in Charlottesville, Va., and a nationwide increase in hate crimes and hate speech.
• California will submit its draft plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act to the U.S. Department of Education in September. A group of independent reviewers evaluated the drafts plans for California and New York, which enroll almost a fifth of the nation’s students. The reviewers raised some questions about California’s new education data dashboard and overall were fairly critical of California’s draft plan. The national group, D.C.-based Bellwether Education Partners, gave California low ratings of 1 or 2 points on a 5-point scale in six of nine categories.