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California Board Proposes New 'Model' Curriculum

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As part of a larger movement to improve public education in California, a California State Board of Education committee has drafted a "model" academic curriculum for the state's public high-school students.

The proposed standards are the first of several proposals expected to emerge from the board and from the newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, Bill Honig, dealing with education problems ranging from the shortage of mathematics and science teachers to school finance.

Demanding Requirements

No California district now has requirements as demanding as those in the state board's proposal, although a few come close.

The proposed standards, if eventually passed by the board, would be models for districts to follow if they chose to, not state requirements. They are more demanding than the minimum graduation requirements that Mr. Honig will present to the California legislature in January.

The board's proposal, outlined at a meeting on Nov. 18, was the first priority of the board's "Master Plan for Excellence in California Schools" committee, said Henry L. Alder, a University of California mathematician and the chairman of the committee.

The committee has recommended that all students be required to take the following courses to graduate from high school:

Four years of English; three years of mathematics (two of algebra, one of geometry); two years of science (one in earth science, one in biological science); two years of a single foreign language; three years of social studies (one year of "world cultures," one year of U.S. history, and a se-mester each of American government and economics); one year of fine arts; and a semester of introductory computer study.

Mr. Honig said of the draft proposals: "I'm supportive of their philosophy that many more children can be educated at higher levels than we are expecting now."

Statewide Requirement

Mr. Honig is advocating a statewide minimum graduation requirement of three years of English, two years of mathematics (possibly with an additional half-year of computer science), three years of history, two years of science, and a year of fine arts. He said he will not propose mandatory foreign-language study.

"There is general agreement in the state that every child should have at least that," he said.

As of 1980, California was one of 10 states leaving graduation requirements largely in the hands of local school districts, according to a study of state-mandated graduation requirements conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

California had state requirements until the legislature repealed them in 1968. According to Ellis Bowman, special assistant to the state board of education, the state's requirements then were "similar, but a little less stringent" than the recommendations the board is considering.

The board will resist any efforts to "water down" the proposed requirements, according to its president, Ann Leavenworth, by not allowing such courses as "consumer math" to substitute for algebra and geometry in the mathematics requirement.

"It's important to go beyond course titles to course content," she said.

During a four-month review period, specifics of the courses will be worked out, she said. "These will be board-passed guidelines for the purpose of reviewing local districts' requirements at public hearings,'' Ms. Leavenworth said.

The department of education is preparing a handbook for districts that want to evaluate their own requirements.

Board members feel that local involvement and commitment are crucial to school-improvement efforts, Ms. Leavenworth said, and they realize from past experience that state improvement mandates are often resisted.

Ms. Leavenworth believes legislative curriculum requirements would result in standards set at "the lowest common denominator."

This fall, the state conducted a survey of current graduation requirements in the districts. Half of the 376 high-school and unified districts in the state replied.

The survey showed that 39 percent of the state's reporting districts now require four years of English for graduation. No district had a two-year foreign-language requirement for all students. In mathematics, 46 percent of the districts require two years, and 39 percent require one.

'Early Evidence'

Ms. Leavenworth said that "early evidence" from a study of selected California school districts by the state department of education shows that "a vast majority of students are taking a limited scope of courses, without sequence."

Ms. Leavenworth said that requirements vary from district to district, and that some are already raising standards on their own.

The state board will produce a draft of its proposed requirements for review and comment by state educators, parents, and others from January through April 1983.

The board will then consider the proposal for final approval in June.

The committee that produced the curriculum proposal was formed in September, following the recommendation of the Coalition for Intermediate and Secondary Education Improvement. The coalition, composed of the leadership of 14 statewide education and community organizations, announced its recommendations in August.

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