Case study

California Curriculum Policy in the 1990s

Standards and Assessments
Lisa Carlos
Michael W. Kirst
Stanford University


Paper prepared for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL, March 24, 1997 (revised April 1, 1997).

This case study traces the evolution of California's curriculum-related reforms, especially those which have influenced mathematics and science, and examines such reforms within the larger framework of the state's shifting political and policy context. Central to this study is the question of what role the California Department of Education played in relation to other state agencies and actors in developing curriculum policies. Although the paper provides some of the historical background on California's reform efforts over the past decade or so, it focuses on those events that occurred during the 1990s.

This paper describes the evolution of state curriculum policy and politics as perceived by state officials, experts, and the public. This is not an impact study of local effects. Consequently, there is no attention to how curriculum affects school practice, other than through the perceptions of state policymakers and researchers. These perceptions matter because they may have a significant influence on how and why state policy changed. For example, while this study did not try to determine exactly what caused California's low scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, if state policymakers perceive that these scores were the result of misguided state policy, then that and other perceptions are crucial to the analysis below.

Finally, while this paper raises important questions about the problems associated with curriculum policy in California, it is not drawing conclusions about how such issues should be addressed. Instead, it chooses to highlight those policy recommendations that were mentioned by others during the course of the interviews and analysis of documents.

Suggested citationCarlos, L., & Kirst. M. W. (1997, April). California curriculum policy in the 1990s: Standards and assessments [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.