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It's Standard Time Again in California

State panel issues draft guidelines for what students should know; from the Constitution to chemical reactions, from Robert E. Lee to RNA.


The state commission asked to determine what California's public school students should learn at various grade levels has unveiled drafts of its standards in two more subject areas: science and history-social science.

The proposed science standards emphasize fundamental knowledge as well as the use of the scientific method. And they treat high school chemistry and physical science as separate disciplines--rather than integrating the two, as is becoming increasingly common in many schools.

High schoolers, according to the panel, should know that viruses contain DNA or RNA and must use a cell's chemical machinery to spread.

The history-social science standards incorporate topics from civics, geography and economic reasoning, beginning in the early grades.

Rather than expecting teachers to rely only on textbooks, the standards emphasize the use of biographies of people such as Jefferson Davis and Ulysses S. Grant as a way to understand the Civil War. They also expect students to become familiar with speeches, such as the Gettysburg Address, to enliven the topic.

Though released only this week, the draft science standards already have stirred considerable debate.

The Academic Standards Commission got off to a false start in writing them in November when it rejected the offer of a group led by Nobel Prize-winning scientists to do the work for free, awarding a contract to a competing panel. The two groups squabbled in public over their differing approaches--with the Nobelists emphasizing traditional scientific knowledge and the other coalition, which included more educators, placing more importance on making science fun and accessible for a wide range of students.

In the wake of that controversy, representatives of both groups were asked to work together, and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Glenn Seaborg was appointed to the standards commission to chair its science committee.

In writing its drafts, the commission conducted focus group sessions with parents, teachers, and business and community leaders. It also relied on experts, as well as academic standards now used in other states, such as Virginia, Texas and Florida. The science standards also reflect documents that shape instruction in Britain, France, Japan and Switzerland.

"Students and teachers deserve to know precisely what they are accountable for: mastery of fundamental content equal to or better than that to which students around the world have been consistently exposed," Seaborg said. "To do anything less would be irresponsible."

After public hearings, the learning guidelines will be revised by the Academic Standards Commission and submitted by Aug. 1 for approval to the State Board of Education, which will take its own crack at them.

Even then, the standards are but a step toward the eventual goal of creating a new state test that will cover these subjects--as well as math and language arts--in grades five, eight and 10. The commission finished its work in math and language arts last fall.

Following are excerpts. The complete draft standards can be viewed on the commission's Web site:


Grade 5

Students analyze the important ideas that influenced the foundation of the American republic. Therefore, students:

1. Explain the idea that the Constitution both empowers and limits central government, and describe the relationship between limited government and individual rights.

2. Assess the significance of the new Constitution of 1787, including the struggles over its ratification and the reasons for the addition of a Bill of Rights.

3. Identify the powers granted to the Congress, the president and the Supreme Court, and those reserved to the states.

4. Explain the meaning of the American creed that calls on citizens to safeguard the liberty of individual Americans within a unified nation; to respect the rule of law; to contribute to the welfare of their communities and the nation; to preserve the Constitution.

5. Describe the fundamental principles of American democracy, including that the people are sovereign, that individual rights are protected within majority rule, equality of rights, patriotism, personal responsibility and religious liberty.

Grade 8

Students analyze the multiple causes, key events and complex consequences of the Civil War. Therefore, students:

1. Compare and contrast the economic and political differences between the North and South, as exemplified by statesmen such as Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun.

2. Describe the geographical differences between the two regions and the differences between agrarians and industrialists.

3. Explain the significance of the Wilmot Proviso, the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Ostend Manifesto, States Rights Doctrine, the Dred Scott case and the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

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