The Obama administration hailed the adoption of national "common core" curriculum standards by California and 40 other states as a "game changer" in the drive to make American children more competitive in the global marketplace.
But under current scenarios, California students won't have use of math textbooks aligned with the new standards until the 2019-20 school year, and won't have English language arts textbooks until 2021 at the earliest, said Tom Adams, director of the Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division at the state education department. That will be years after President Obama leaves office, even if he is elected to a second term.
It would take that long to have new math and English language arts textbooks in K-8 grades, even if they weren't aligned to the "common core" curriculum standards. The reason? The State Board of Education is barred by law from developing or adopting any new textbooks for the next several years.
The timeline for new textbooks is even longer than the one presented by state officials at the annual EdSource conference in Irvine on March 18, as a result of budget legislation now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. Under state law, the State Board of Education adopts textbooks for grades K-8, which districts must use if they buy them with state funds. Local districts are able to select their own high school textbooks, as long as they are aligned with state standards.
A recent report by the Center for Education Policy outlines the minefields that lie ahead for states trying to implement the common core standards. But none are likely to have to overcome the considerable obstacles California faces.
Holding California back will be legislation approved by the California Legislature in 2009, AB X4 2, which specifically stated that the state board "shall not adopt instructional materials or to follow any procedures" under the state education code needed to produce new textbooks. The legislation was intended to give districts more flexibility in how they spend funds previously designated for specific programs, and to relieve them of the financial pressure to purchase new textbooks during the current budget crisis.
As the Saddleback Valley Unified School District noted at the time:
Current funding of approximately $55 per pupil for textbooks is extremely inadequate. The typical cost for a high school textbook is $120 per pupil and an average cost for grade K-8 adoptions (textbooks and required ancillary materials) is approximately $90 per pupil. Our district has textbooks in several content areas that are becoming worn out due to the inability to replace them and this is compounding our textbook shortages. It is not possible to manage current textbook needs and prepare for future textbook needs given the current level of funding.
The legislation also stripped the state's 18-member Curriculum Commission [PDF] of its $705,000 budget. The commission was disbanded. A visit to its website shows how its meeting schedule came to an abrupt halt in 2009.
As with so much legislation approved in California, this law could have unintended consequences by delaying the full implementation of the common core standards – one enthusiastically embraced by the same Legislature that voted for ABX4 2.
The prohibition on working on new textbooks is in place until the 2013-14 school year, but under new budget legislation now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's signature, it will be extended another two years, until 2015-16. Assuming the prohibition is lifted then, it would take several years after that to develop the materials, have them adopted by the state board, and then make them available for purchase by school districts.
This lengthy timeline will likely put California, whose public schools enroll one in eight schoolchildren in the United States, significantly behind the timeline currently envisaged by the Obama administration.
Last November U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan projected that schoolchildren will start being tested on the new common core curriculum in the 2014-15 school year. At that time, he said, "millions of U.S. schoolchildren, parents, and teachers will know, for the first time, if students truly are on track for colleges and careers."
But California education officials say there is no way students could be fairly tested on the new standards before textbooks aligned with them are available for use in the classroom.
"The assessments should be based on the same standards that the curriculum is based on," said the Department of Education's Adams.
What could accelerate the process by a year or two is if the Legislature approves legislation, AB 250, sponsored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, that would restart the curriculum development process.
"We are still waiting for legislation that would provide relief on this and allow us to move forward," Adams said.
Although not part of the "common core" curriculum, which focuses on math and reading, new history and science textbooks will be delayed even longer, Adams said. The earliest new history textbooks, whether in hard copy or online, will be available for use in the classroom will be in the fall of 2020. New science textbooks will be available in the fall of 2022.
That means that until 2020 no students will be able to read in a state-adopted textbook that President Obama had ever been president.
Said Adams, "When the president is out of office, we will be able to tell our students that this was an historic election, because by then it would truly be part of history."
As Gavin Payne, who until last year was chief deputy superintendent in the state Department of Education, observed at the EdSource conference, "This is proving to be a hard, complicated process."