State Curriculum Frameworks are Merely Suggestions

There is a great deal of frustration among parents in the state of California over curriculum controversies. Many parents feel that the California Department of Education (CDE) has a political agenda that they are trying to impose on the children and that the CDE is influenced by special interest groups.

The CDE periodically publishes documents called “curriculum frameworks” that outline the material that should be taught by teachers in the public schools. So, when people talk about the controversial new sex education curriculum, they are referring to the content of new Health Education Curriculum Framework.

What many people do not understand is that all the CDE curriculum frameworks are completely optional. Local school districts are under no obligation to adopt them. Their only obligation is to follow state law on education (a.k.a. the Ed Code). Every curriculum framework document published by the CDE has a notice printed at the front, similar to this one taken from the English language framework:

The guidance in the English Language Arts/English Language Development Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve is not binding on local educational agencies or other entities. Except for the statutes, regulations, and court decisions that are referenced herein, the document is exemplary and compliance with it is not mandatory. (See Education Code Section 33308.5.)

When the state passes a new law regarding curriculum, it is often “enhanced” by the CDE in its scope and detail. Thus, what ends up in the associated curriculum framework often goes way beyond the law it is based on. Local school districts and teachers frequently erroneously believe that the curriculum framework IS the law.

It’s not. Local school districts can teach whatever they want, as long as it is consistent with the the Ed Code. So for example, AB 329 is the controversial new sex ed law. A lot of the controversy is related to the elementary school material in the curriculum framework. But the actual law only requires grades 7 through 12 – once in middle school and once in high school. Elementary school is optional. So parents should not throw up their hands in disgust and give up. Local school boards control the actual content and timing. So, if parents want their local curriculum to be more family-friendly, it is just a matter of electing school board trustees that are more family-friendly.

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