Information for Open Letter to Governor Schwarzenegger and Members of
the California Legislature
Note: Endorsing the Open Letter does
not necessarily signify agreement with any statements on this page.
The July 7, 2006 letter from former Governors Davis and Wilson is
governors' letter includes point-by-point rebuttals and corrections
claims being advanced about California's recent experience with
standards and accountability." Those incorrect claims
appear in a document entitled, "Part I, California Education in
2006: State Policy," written by Jackie Goldberg, the Chair of the
California Assembly Education Committee.
Goldberg's essay with rebuttals is linked here:
Her essay without rejoinders appears contiguously at the end of that
document. Below are the opening paragraphs of Goldberg's essay, which
begins with a denunciation of California's K-12 academic standards
(to which she refers inappropriately as the "revised 'adopted'
In the mid-1990's a noble idea was
"kidnapped" and K-12 education in California began to move down a path
that has led to as disastrous result for the majority of California
students. The original concept was excellent and included the
idea of statewide standards for each grade, in each core subject: Math,
English, Science, History/Social Sciences. Statewide panels of
teachers and academicians were appointed for each of the four
curricular subject matter areas. They worked together, battling
over and discussing each standard, and remarkably achieved consensus.
But their work was thrown out by the State board of Education
(SBE). Instead, one member of the SBE, at the time, rewrote the
work of each of these statewide panels. This was done at the
urging of, and with the personal active participation of, "fellows" at
the conservative Hoover Institute located on the Stanford University
campus. These ideologically based "scholars" created new
standards which immediately set off the "math wars," "reading wars,"
and the "science wars" which rage on to this day. These new
standards from the Hoover Institute began the forced march towards the
current rigid, one-size-fits-all, top down regimentation of K-8
education in California. And, when they added "standards' aligned
testing" and "standards' aligned textbooks," rigor mortis set in.
Statewide standards as originally presented had broad-based support by
academicians and teachers. The revised "adopted" standards do not.
As Governors Davis and Wilson indicate, Goldberg's description is not
accurate. What follows is a summary of the events leading to, and
following, the adoption of California's standards.
By the mid-1990s, dramatic failures of "whole language learning" in
teaching primary grade students to read, and analogous shortcomings in
mathematics education resulted in public pressure to change state
education policies. In early 1995, state Superintendent of Schools,
Delaine Eastin, convened task forces for reading and math to recommend
improvements for instruction. That same year, the California
legislature passed a bill that required school districts to include the
teaching of basic skills in reading and math as part of their
curriculum. Governor Wilson signed this "ABC Bill" in October
1995, and it became law in January 1996. The State Board of
Education scheduled a rewrite of the 1992 Math Framework two years
ahead of the normal time table. Rewrites were also scheduled for other
subject matter frameworks in 1998.
In January 1997, the Academic Content and Performance Standards
Commission (Standards Commission) was charged with writing new
standards for California and submitting its drafts to the State Board
of Education for final approval. The committee consisted of non
expert citizens appointed through a political process. The majority of
the Standards Commissioners were largely in agreement with past
practices which emphasized discovery learning at the expense of basic
skills and coherent development of subject matter. The Standards
Commission first released its proposal for state math standards. That
document not only embraced practices that California was trying to
escape, but was also incoherent and full of mathematical errors.
The Commission majority, knowing that the State Board of Education was
opposed to their draft, delayed presenting it for the required Board
approval until the last day allowed by law, effectively foreclosing
debate within the Commission itself at its final October meeting. The
expectation was that the deadline of January 1, 1998 for the Board's
final decision would make it difficult for the Board to make
substantial changes in the Commission's draft. However, the
success of this hardball politics was foiled by the rapid response of
the forewarned Board, which appointed four mathematicians, Gunnar
Carlsson, Ralph Cohen, Steve Kerckhoff, and R. James Milgram, of
Stanford University to rewrite the draft K-12 math standards.
In a few weeks the Stanford math professors rewrote the standards,
corrected more than 100 mathematical errors, and eliminated all
directives, leaving the standards pedagogically neutral. The new
document would allow teachers to use discovery learning or direct
instruction, or whatever classroom techniques worked for them, so long
as they taught all of the grade level content standards. The
mathematics framework was regarded as the proper document for
discussions of pedagogy, but not the standards themselves.
This was what the State Board was looking for, and the mathematicians'
standards were adopted by California in December 1997. These are
now California's official math standards. They are clear, coherent, and
meet the criteria set by the California legislature to be competitive
with math standards of the highest performing countries.
Professor Hung-Hsi Wu of the U.C. Berkeley math department, did a careful analysis
of the California standards (that the board adopted), in comparison to
the draft favored by Jackie Goldberg and submitted by the Standards
Commission which the Board
rejected. Wu found numerous mathematical errors and lack of
clarity and cohesion in the rejected Commission standards, in contrast
to an overall soundness and clarity in California's now official math
In contradiction to Jackie Goldberg's allegations, the only K-12 draft
standards released by the Standards Commission that were rejected by
the State board were the mathematics standards, and only one member,
Bill Evers, of the 21-member Standards Commission was associated with
the Hoover Institution.
Following strident denunciations in the press of the newly adopted
California math standards by non mathematicians, more than 100
mathematics professors from colleges and universities across California
added their names to a 1998 open letter
in support of the California's math standards. The signatories
included chairs of the math departments at Caltech, Stanford, several
UC and CSU campuses, as well as community college faculty. Jaime
Escalante, portrayed in the movie Stand and Deliver, also added his
name in support. In addition two consecutive evaluations of
the state math standards conducted by the Fordham
Foundation, most recently in 2005, ranked California's math
standards the best in the
California assesses academic achievement of students in grades 2 - 11
annually through through the STAR
exam. For the math portion of that exam, students are not allowed
to use calculators, and this sound policy is explained in detail in the
California Mathematics Framework.
However, as of July 2006, the Multiple Subject California Subject
Examination for Teachers (CSET), an exam required of prospective
elementary school teachers, works against the elementary school math
standards. The CSET allows prospective elementary school teachers to use
calculators for the entire math portion of the exam. Thus,
current state policy does not require elementary school teachers to be
able to carry out any arithmetic procedures by hand. California
expects greater facility with arithmetic from its elementary school
students than it does from its elementary school teachers. These
low expectations of elementary school teachers undermine the state's
In November 1997 the Standards Commission attempted to award a $178,000
to a group based at California State University, San Bernardino, to
help write California's science standards. The Commission rejected a
competing offer to write the state's science standards for free by a
group calling itself the
Associated Scientists that included three Nobel Prize winners. A
Los Angeles Times article of January 17,
1998 ("Rival Scientists to Collaborate on School Science Standards," by
Richard Colvin) described subsequent events as follows:
Since its initial offer to write the
standards was rejected, the Nobelists group has bolstered its ranks
with the addition of six other winners of science's highest
honor . . . and
dozens of classroom teachers.
The rival group, based at Cal State San Bernardino, also includes top
scientists but is weighted more heavily with educators.
"To have any role in the process at all is just terrific," said Stan
Metzenberg, a Cal State Northridge biology professor who assembled the
group featuring Nobel laureates, including Glenn Seaborg, a key figure
in nuclear physics. "I think this is a real opportunity for the K-12
students in our state to have standards that are written by the best
scientists and the best educators."
Bonnie Brunkhorst, a Cal State San Bernardino professor who heads the
other group--which initially had gotten the job--was less enthusiastic
about the compromise decision of the Commission for the Establishment
of Academic Content and Performance Standards.
"We are willing to explore it," she said. "Working together requires
two groups working in good faith, and we will work in good faith."
The Nobelists' group had complained that science education was being
"dumbed down" in a misguided effort to make it more appealing. It
wanted the standards to require students to learn specific concepts,
such as how electrical charges bond atoms into molecules or how "the
funny little bend" in the water molecule is a fundamental basis for
life on Earth.
Brunkhorst's group, in contrast, thought the Nobel laureates'
philosophy perpetuated a scientific elitism that risked making the
curriculum inaccessible to all but a few students.
That group won out in a November vote of the commission, which rejected
Seaborg's team as lacking experience both in the classroom and in
writing standards. The commission also seemed suspicious of the offer
to work for free.
But the spurned Nobelists appealed on grounds that the commission had
failed to follow its own rules.
The commission then agreed that it should have given Seaborg and his
colleagues more credit for offering to work without pay. Brunkhorst's
group wanted to charge $178,000.
Governor Wilson appointed Glenn Seaborg to the
Commission in January 1998. The California State Board of
Education adopted the Commission's recommended science standards as
California's K-12 science standards in July of the same year.
The 2005 Fordham Foundation's evaluation
of state science standards ranked California's science standards
the best in the nation.
Language Arts and History/Social Studies Standards
The proposals by the Standards Commission for the Language Arts
standards and the
History/Social Studies standards were adopted by the State Board of
Education in 1997 and 1998 respectively. The 2006 Fordham
of state K-12 world history standards ranked California's the best
in the nation, and the Foundation's 2005 evaluation
of K-12 English standards ranked California's second in the nation.
Recent controversy has focused on whether different English language
standards should apply to English language learners. Governor
19, 2006 unsigned editorial in the same newspaper supported the
positions of all three governors, ending with this statement:
... having failed to convince the state
board of its point of view,
proponents of separate materials for English learners leaned on
Democrats in the Legislature to strip the board's $1.6 million funding,
prompting board President Glee Johnson to resign. Democrats won't
restore the board's budget unless the governor signs SB 1769, sponsored
by Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Norwalk, which would force the state board to
do what they want. Schwarzenegger is right to not play along and for
finding other ways to pay the state board's staff.
The conflict with the state board
reflects larger tensions in the
Legislature over sanctions facing hundreds of schools statewide under
the federal No Child Left Behind Act. However understandable the
frustration, attacking standardized tests, weakening the high school
exit exam and relaxing the definition of proficiency are fake fixes.
The three governors are right: Those
tactics will hurt students in the long run.
A Los Angeles Times unsigned editorial entitled, "Forgetting
the Bilingual Lesson" on August 29, 2006 argued similarly as
CALIFORNIA WAS SUPPOSED TO have learned
a sad but important lesson from
its years of experimenting with bilingual education: When you isolate a
group of largely poor, minority students and give them different
instruction from what other students receive, they tend to get a
dumbed-down, second-rate education.
that lesson hasn't fully sunk in. Nor has the idea that playground
politics and retribution are not in the best interests of
This spring, the Assn. of California School
Administrators and more than 30 school districts presented to the state
Board of Education a flawed proposal to offer English-language learners
a simpler language-arts curriculum, with separate textbooks. The plan,
called Option VI, would require those students to devote 2 1/2 hours a
day learning from texts with shorter words and bigger pictures. Either
teachers would have to somehow teach two curriculums at the same time —
one for English speakers, one for the rest — or the English learners
would have to be separated out. Either way, students lose.
board, which is responsible for setting standards and choosing
curriculum and textbooks, rightly rejected Option VI as a regressive
return to the days of lower expectations for children of color. That's
when Sacramento got silly. In a fit of pique, the Legislature stripped
all funding for board members' support staff. That triggered the
resignation of board President Glee Johnson, and other members
considered following her lead. Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier)
introduced a measure to restore the money but still override the
board's decision. This is a juvenile way to deal with an adult problem.
has embarked on a steep and difficult climb — one that is far from
complete — to set higher standards, adopt strong curriculum and apply
those standards and curriculum evenly so that inner-city students get
the same education as their more affluent peers. It is true that the
state's core English curriculum is, in many ways, a tough fit for the
1.6 million children in California who can't yet speak the language.
Teachers have been scrambling to bridge the gaps, and they are pleading
for help. The Board of Education did approve an extra hour of English
instruction for those students, but that's not enough to make up for
the 2 1/2 hours each day in which children feel lost amid material they
Extra help is a valuable thing, but a wholly
different curriculum for English learners reopens the door to the days
of lower standards for the nation's immigrant children.
bill should be dumped, the Legislature should stop playing petty
politics with the budget, and both sides should work out a solution
that gives teachers the tools to help all students learn the same
Visual and Performing Arts
The 2004 edition of the Arts Framework is
based on the Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards adopted in
January 2001. It incorporates the content standards for dance, music,
theater, and the visual arts and defines the five strands of an arts
program: artistic perception; creative expression; historical and
cultural context; aesthetic valuing; and connections, relationships,
Detailed information about California's K-12 education system is
available from these links:
Academic Content Standards
California Testing and
Approved Textbooks and Instructional Materials