FOR some educators, it is nothing less than a "battle for the
souls of children." For others, it is simply a decision to bring
California's educational curriculum "back to the center."
One way or another, the state legislature has sounded a wake-up
call to top education officials: Children must be taught the core
skills of spelling, reading, and math in the state's public schools.
California's back-to-basics swing - including a return to
phonics - mirrors a nationwide trend. The legislature's order to
reform the textbooks - known as the ABC bill - takes on added
significance here, however, given that this is the country's
largest school system, and the largest textbook market.
The bill, passed last week by a unanimous vote, sends a strong
message to the state Department of Education that its progressive
1987 comprehensive language-arts program - despite the best
intentions - is not measuring up.
Critics say lawmakers are pushing a simplistic solution to a set
of complex problems facing the troubled California school system.
Once considered a national model, California schools have
declined sharply over the last 20 years. The drop in financial
support for schools can, in large part, be traced to the passing of
Proposition 13 in 1978, which limited property taxes. California
now has the lowest per student spending of all the industrial
states and ranks 42nd in the country overall.
Recently released national and state test scores show that the
majority of the state's schoolchildren are struggling with math and
reading. California's fourth-graders tied with Louisiana's as
having the lowest overall reading skills in the 39 states that
participated in the national test.
"Despite all our excuses, what we see are abysmal reading and
math scores," said Assemblywoman Dede Alpert (D) of San Diego,
chair of the Assembly Education Committee and co-sponsor of the ABC
bill. "What we're hoping to do is return to the middle and not let
the pendulum swing wildly one way or another."
Although touted as a back-to-basics bill - sponsored by three
legislators from across the political spectrum - much will be
retained from the controversial 1987 curriculum reform program.
Rather than being completely rewritten, textbooks will once again
include a focus on the fundamentals of grammar, spelling, and
Glen Thomas, director of curriculum frameworks for the
California Department of Education, says that the authors of the
new curriculum mistakenly assumed that phonics and other essential
learning tools would continue to be taught. …