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Opinion: Pair of bills will help bring curriculum into 21st century

Boring PowerPoint presentations in class

By Michael Matsuda, 2011-05-09
My seventh-grader often laments how boring school has become. "My teachers are nice but they mostly show PowerPoints, which of course we copy verbatim." I'm a big fan of writing and ask Ethan how much he did that day: "Not very much. Zilch. And for that matter, we didn't do much group work either, very little talking in class."

And my son goes to the "good school" with the great Academic Performance Index scores. Many parents rely solely on these scores to judge their schools, without realizing many schools have narrowed the curriculum to what's tested, in some cases eliminating or curtailing art, world languages, science and history in elementary and junior high, and cutting career technical education pathways and innovative electives in high school.

Increasingly, however, parents and business and higher education leaders have become aware of the mismatch between K-12 accountability measures and what really needs to be taught for a 21st century education.


Assemblywoman Julia Brownley and Sen. Lou Correa are sponsoring two bills, AB 250 and SB 402, which will help solve that problem. They will help set a direction for public education that will help prepare our 6 million schoolchildren for citizenship, with the knowledge and skills for success in a 21st century, globally connected world.

Correa's bill would require "each curriculum framework to describe how content can be delivered to intentionally build creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communication into and across each content area." This will begin to take pedagogy beyond "teaching to the test." Imagine classes where students are asked to consistently create their own original thoughts through writing and speaking about real-world problems and issues.

Brownley's bill, which is aligned with Correa's, calls for the update of frameworks, professional development, instructional materials and assessment.

Parents are often unaware that instruction too often emphasizes memory and regurgitation for test score purposes, rather than synthesis, evaluation and creativity. But it's not the fault of the teachers or site administrators. It's the fault of state politicians, along with the federal No Child Left Behind law calling for annual standardized testing in reading and math.

All K-12 students need a breadth of knowledge as well as an understanding of how that content (and the world around them) is interconnected. Parents and community members need to be vigilant in supporting a full offering of curricular courses for their children. Social studies, science, world languages, the arts and engaging 21st century electives should be offered at every site. In K-6, students should have exposure to a balanced and relevant curriculum that appropriately integrates math and reading.

The change in emphasis represented by these two bills -- which have both passed the education committees in their respective houses -- will keep kids like my son engaged in school. It will allow teachers to go deep with subject matter, and will promote a whole curriculum for every child.

More important, the Brownley/Correa bills will give public education a refocused raison d'etre and begin to unleash the creative synergies in education, which can propel our state back to greatness.

Special to the Mercury News 05/09/2011



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