Understanding the California curriculum review process

Photo: Tim Meijer

There’s been a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about what’s going on with the review of the history/social science curriculum in the California Department of Education. Are they trying to erase India from the curriculum, like the Hindu American Foundation claims? Absolutely not. Here’s an overview of the process, with links to resources so you can decide yourself.

Every six years the State of California’s Board of Education submits its frameworks for History-Social Science, Mathematics, and Science for review to the public. These frameworks then go onto inform textbook publishers who will write to these frameworks. It is a multi-year process with time for the public to comment on the draft frameworks. The process for this round of History-Social Science started in early 2015. More details on the process can be found here.

In November 2015 the California Department of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) approved the second review of its Draft History-Social Science Framework. Most of the India/South Asia content is concentrated in 6th grade (chapter 10) and 7th grade (chapter 11). They then opened up a public comment period, during which anyone could submit suggested edits to the framework, until February 29, 2016.

During this period, they received thousands of public comments. State Department of Education liaisons (I’m not sure how many) were tasked with reviewing these comments and determining which ones addressed specific suggested changes to the text of the proposed framework. They recommended either accepting or rejecting each comment, and compiled these recommendations into this summary table document, released on March 14, 2016.

Draft History-Social Science Framework (most India/South Asia content in chapters 10 and 11): http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/hs/cf/hssfw2ndreview.asp
Summary Table Document of suggested revisions to Draft History-Social Science Framework: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/cc/cd/documents/hsssummarypubcomments.doc

The summary table document contains a table of requested text changes, who made them, and whether or not the change was recommended. Again, you can refer to the Draft History-Social Science Framework for the full text for context.

As you can see from the summary table document, a group of South Asia faculty, most of whom are of South Asian descent, advised on a series of edits. This group consists of faculty at higher education institutions who have many years of training and research experience in history, anthropology, religion, and disciplines relevant to a history/social-science framework. Because of their invaluable expertise, nearly all of their suggestions were accepted.

The South Asia faculty group consists of faculty at higher education institutions who have many years of training and research experience in history, anthropology, religion, and disciplines relevant to a history/social-science framework.

The liaisons then presented these recommendations at a public meeting of the History-Social Science Subject Matter Committee on March 24, 2016, going line by line and referring to specific comment numbers from the summary table document. The committee heard and discussed these recommendations, heard public comments from audience members, then voted to accept the recommendations in the summary table document as they were with a few changes.*

During the liaisons’ presentation to the committee and subsequent committee questions and discussion, the committee chair referred at various times to a document from the Uberoi Foundation. I don’t know if this document was entered into the record, but the way he referred to it seemed to indicate that it was intended to refute some of the South Asia faculty group’s recommendations. I mention this because the Uberoi document apparently objected strongly to the term South Asia, preferring India instead, so the chair’s compromise, to which the rest of the committee agreed, was to change these portions to “India (South Asia).” I don’t know where and how many times this change was made.

So that’s a rundown of the draft curriculum and the proposed changes to it. It’s been disturbing and disappointing to see how groups like the Hindu American Foundation have manipulated this process and flattened nuanced understandings of history just to mobilize their supporters. I wish the Department of Education’s website was more transparent about the process and presented their updates in a clearer way. This opacity has made it easier for the Hindu American Foundation to invent a narrative.

What’s been especially egregious is HAF’s supporters’ personal attacks on members of the South Asia faculty group in a failed attempt to discredit them. I admire these faculty members’ commitment to their disciplines and how they are taught to participate in this process despite these attacks.

I’m grateful for their efforts and I commend the History-Social Science Committee for adopting their suggestions. I hope that when the full panel meets on May 11 they do the same.

*For those of you interested in the details of the History-Social Science Committee meeting and what was finally adopted, this is for you:

In the process of their presentation, the committee liaisons also announced that they’d modified the recommendations from the summary table document somewhat, and had either reversed their recommendations altogether or edited them. These changes are taken from my notes, and I’ll update the official document whenever it’s released. If I’ve gotten anything wrong please let me know in the comments. Here are those India/South Asia-related modifications:

2552 — Add “religious background”
2555 — Substitute “transformation” for “suppression” and delete “which was taken up by Buddhists.”
2781 — Change from YES to NO
2814 — Change from YES to NO
3192 — Change from YES to NO

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