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K-8 Instructional Materials Adoption

State board adopts revised materials criteria, declines to limit hands-on materials

In a major triumph for hands-on science advocates, the State Board of Education at its March, 2004 meeting heeded the call of science teachers, businesses, and university faculty to reverse a recommendation of the state's curriculum commission and approved guidelines for instructional materials that provide for a minimum of 20 percent hands-on instruction.

The state board approved the criteria to be used in evaluating the K-8 science instructional materials which will be adopted by the state in 2006. Publishers are required to adhere to the guidelines when developing materials they wish to have considered for adoption by the state. Only those materials on the state's approved adoption list may be purchased by districts using state instructional materials funds (IMF); consequently, the criteria serve as a critical factor in a district's determination of what instructional programs it can offer.

The original criteria proposed by the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission contained several elements that science teachers and others found to be problematic. First among these was a requirement that materials, in order to be considered for adoption, had to demonstrate that "the California Science Standards can be comprehensively taught from the submitted materials with hands-on activities composing no more than 20 to 25 percent of science instructional time [emphases added]." The criterion would have eliminated from consideration kit-based and NSF-funded materials, most of which require more than 25 percent of the instruction to be conducted through investigations and hands-on activities.

After a prolonged public comment period, the state board rejected this criterion and accepted compromise language, hammered out days earlier in a meeting between state board staff and CSTA executive director Christine Bertrand, K-12 teachers, CSU faculty, CSU deans, California School Boards Association, and California Teachers Association, which reversed the restriction. Rather than mandating the 20 to 25 percent restriction as a maximum, the new language requires publishers to submit materials that demonstrate that the standards can be taught with hands-on activities composing at least 20 to 25 percent of the instructional program. The board heard from 28 individuals representing businesses, scientists, university deans, teachers, administrators, local school boards, and parents, all urging adoption of the revised criteria.

Other language which had provoked criticism from science teachers and others was also revised, largely at the prompting of CSTA. In a letter to the state board, CSTA president Sharon Janulaw had pointed out that, "The (original) criteria, taken as a whole, convey a predisposition to direct instruction which is dismissive both of the authority of local districts to make basic instructional decisions and of the expertise of teachers to understand and meet the specific needs of the students in their classrooms."

For instance, the criteria submitted by the curriculum commission included the requirement that each hands-on activity in the submitted materials be supplemented with suggestions for how they could be adapted to "direct instruction methods of teaching." As there is no research to suggest that direct instruction is superior to any other instructional strategy, CSTA recommended that, if alternatives to hands-on activities are suggested, those suggestions should include all possible strategies a teacher might use to teach a scientific concept. At the meeting called by the state board staff, that language was changed to "other methods of teaching, including teacher modeling, teacher demonstration, direct instruction, and reading," as specified in the California Science Framework.

Additionally, the criteria carried an overall tone which conveyed a disrespect for teachers. One passage required materials to include a teacher edition that "describes what to teach, how to teach and when to teach, including ample and useful annotations and suggestions on how to present the content . . ." At CSTA's urging, the criterion eliminated the language "what to teach, how to teach and when to teach."

The outpouring of criticism for the original version came from all quarters of the science education community, business and industry, and university faculty and administration. In addition to letters from CSTA, teachers, and numerous school superintendents, correspondence to state board members included a letter from Boeing company president Rick Stephens, and another signed by the CEOs of Bechtel, Genentech, Intel, Pixar, The George Lucas Educational Foundation, Adobe Systems, chancellors of 11 University of California campuses, and the presidents of CalTech and Stanford. State board staff indicated that the board had never received as much correspondence about any one issue as it had received on this issue.

At CSTA's suggestion, many of the letters were copied to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Secretary of Education Richard Riordan, State Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, and State Senator John Vasconcellos. Representatives of Governor Schwarzenegger's office were present at the meeting called by state board staff to reach the compromise language.

CSTA's goal was to get criteria that made it possible for a wide array of instructional materials to be considered for adoption, so that districts and teachers would have some real choices. In that regard, this is a huge victory for science teachers, who know best how to meet the instructional needs of their students, and for the right of local districts to be able to purchase the materials they know will best meet those needs. The current adoption list includes only three programs for grades 6-8 and three programs for grades K-5/6 from which districts may choose.