Among many important education bills signed by the governor in October, perhaps none was more vital than AB 250, authored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley and sponsored by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson. Known as the Curriculum Support and Reform Act of 2011, AB 250 mandates that the state align curriculum frameworks with the new Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts, an action, according to TOPed, “which will put muscle and flesh on the skeleton of the basic standards to better guide teachers on what students are expected to know and be able to do.”
The members of the California Coalition for P21 (Partnership for 21st Century Education) couldn’t agree more and believe AB 250 will come to be recognized as legislation that impacts teaching and learning in California for generations to come. The “muscle and flesh” requires “each curriculum framework to describe how content can be delivered to intentionally build creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communication in all content areas.”
Michelle Herczog, P21 California co-chair and past president of the California Council for the Social Studies, states, “Passage of AB 250 will position California to become the 17th P21 state in the nation and equip us to prepare our six million students for college, career and citizenship in the 21st century by focusing attention on building deeper learning skills across all content areas. For example, in history-social science, it calls upon students to think deeply about the “big ideas” of history and apply them in today’s world. In this way, students learn to acquire and apply civic knowledge, skills and dispositions to address real problems as effective citizens in a democratic society.”
Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez, president of the Latino School Boards Association, adds, “For too long we have ignored the “4 Cs: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity, sacrificing deeper learning on the altar of higher multiple-choice test scores. This is especially true with Latinos, African Americans and other underperforming student groups. This bill brings a focus back on effective instruction that gives teachers the space to go deep with instructional and literacy strategies across all curricular areas.”
States that have become P21 Leadership States design new curricular frameworks, assessments, and professional development programs that ensure 21st century readiness for every student. To become a P21 Leadership State, a state demonstrates commitment from the governor and chief state school officer, and submits an application outlining a plan of action.
It is important to note that while many educational leaders have pointed out that an overemphasis on high-stakes testing of mostly English language arts and mathematics has narrowed the curriculum for many low-income, English learner, and African American students, AB 250 does not directly solve the narrowing of the curriculum issue. P21 California member Jose Moreno, chair of Chicano Studies at California State University Long Beach and member of the Anaheim City School District Board of Trustees, states, “Latinos, who now comprise half of all students enrolled in California’s public schools, need the same depth of learning and exposure to a broad curriculum that helps more privileged students to be college and career ready. Folks need to understand that Latino and African American student success is critical for California’s success. Our business leaders understand that and that’s why many supported this bill.”
So let’s be clear: AB 250 does not mandate that a broad curriculum, ideally aligned to career tech education and STEM pathways, be offered to all students. The bill does push for deeper learning in all content areas but falls short of requiring that all content areas get adequate “shelf space” during the instructional day.
Unfortunately, as more and more districts are labeled “failing” by not meeting testing benchmarks in No Child Left Behind and more and more dollars are spent on corrective action to raise test scores in the two subjects most tested, California will exacerbate a growing opportunity gap by denying many low-income, English learner, Latino, and/or African American students access to a broad 21st century curriculum.
This is an ongoing challenge that our governor, state superintendent, and State Board of Education must confront if we are to truly create a well-aligned, seamless pre-K-16 teaching and learning system that will propel us back to world leadership in education. While there is much cause for celebration, when the cheering dies down there is still a lot of work to do.
Michael Matsuda is coordinator for Quality Teacher Programs with the Anaheim Union High School District and president of the North Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees.