The Williams Act and You - A Love Story
By Peter A’Hearn and Marian Murphy-Shaw
Wherein science teacher meets legal requirement for student instructional materials, the teacher is baffled and bewildered by the legal requirement for student instructional materials, teacher and legal requirement for student instructional materials live happily ever after.
California’s adoption of the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS) has left many teachers and districts scrambling to find the appropriate curriculum to teach NGSS. The field test began in April, the live test is a year from now, and the state is just getting the instructional materials adoption process going. Districts are re-purposing old materials, purchasing supplemental programs, cobbling together curriculum from multiple open sources, and even trying to write their own. Gotta love California for starting testing before the curriculum is ready! (Actually, the state is being forced to test by a federal requirement.) As if this isn’t enough to juggle, there is also the Williams Act, a state law that, among other things, specifies what constitutes an adequate curriculum and how students should access it.
This article is designed to be useful, so skip to the sections you are interested in. The first section is some background on the Williams Act. The second is about choosing a curriculum. The third section deals with issues related to materials that are not textbook-based, like electronic or kit-based, teacher- or district-created, or from multiple sources. Enjoy!
Part 1- Why is there a Williams Act, How does it work, and what does my district need to do to comply?
The Williams Act was part of the settlement of a lawsuit called the Williams Case. In the Williams case, 100 students, with the help of the ACLU, sued their school district and the state for not providing current and adequate instructional materials, safe and decent school facilities, and qualified teachers. You probably remember hearing horror stories about kids in high poverty schools who had ancient science textbooks that said “maybe someday people would walk on the Moon! Well, the kids won the case and the state was forced to pony up money for new materials and also issue new guidelines for districts to certify that students had access to adequate textbooks and instructional materials, among other requirements. Part of the settlement included the enactment of new state laws, including CA Education Code Section 60119 which addresses instructional materials sufficiency. Details are available on CDE’s website.
The Williams Act is the guideline for districts. The basics are:
The school board of any district needs to hold a public hearing by the 8th week of the school year and certify that all pupils have adequate textbooks or other instructional materials and if not report on where the deficiencies are and who they affect. This is probably already a part of your district's process.
The curriculum materials need to be aligned to standards.
Students need to have access at home and at school. With a textbook this traditionally means that they have a text they carry back and forth from school to home (super heavy backpacks anyone?). The law says that photocopied sheets are not adequate.
A few obvious questions arise from this. How can you have standards-based curriculum if the state hasn’t adopted NGSS-aligned instructional materials (for K-8), your district has not yet conducted its own review/selection process (K-12), or your district hasn’t selected and designed its course model (6-12)? Also, how do you provide access at home for kit-based, open source, district-created, or electronic programs? Read on.
Part 2- How do we select the best curriculum for our district?
When looking for new NGSS curriculum, you want to choose one that fulfills the Williams Act and meets the needs of your district. The state adoption process is designed to help districts find a curriculum that is aligned to the state standards, a key requirement of the Williams Act. The state adoption process is getting started now and will be finished in November 2018.
As part of the state’s process, the instructional materials reviewers use checklists to make sure instructional materials submitted by publishers have alignment with the science framework adopted by the California State Board of Education. However, the state process does not evaluate the quality to which those materials align nor how well the materials meet the specific needs of students and teachers.
There is no mandate to purchase curriculum from the approved list. There used to be a cumbersome waiver process if you adopted materials not on the list, but that waiver process is no longer required. The waiver was needed when the state provided funds to districts specifically for textbook adoption. If you wanted to spend that money on non-approved curriculum, the state asked for lots of documentation to support that request. Now that we have LCAP, districts have an increased level of autonomy to spend money the way they feel meets the needs of their students and a waiver is no longer needed.
When your district decides to adopt new materials for the California NGSS standards (or any standards), the State also outlines a process that they need to go through. This process is recommended whether a district chooses materials on the state approved list or not. In 2015, the State Board of Education adopted “Guidelines for Piloting Textbooks and Instructional Materials” which that outlines the process. (A fully accessible version is available from CDE – see FAQ 21.)
Here is the more succinct version:
There needs to be a committee that represents the stakeholders in the district and the majority of participants in the selection committee need to be classroom teachers who teach the grade levels and/or subjects that the instructional materials are for.
The committee should review the 2016 California Science Framework and the California NGSS standards. (A more user-friendly presentation of the standards is available from the San Diego County Office of Education.)
The committee should review the specific needs of the district including past test scores and demographic data on special populations.
The committee needs to prioritize criteria and decide on a process. (Consider making use of CSTA's White Paper: Priority Features of NGSS Instructional Materials. Achieve has developed and compiled a list of resources useful for evaluating instructional materials.)
There needs to be a check on the social content of the materials to ensure that they avoid stereotyping, reflect California’s multicultural society, and create a positive learning environment.
If the curriculum is not on the state the state-approved list, a curriculum map should be created to ensure that all standards are addressed in the curriculum.
Set-up a fair piloting process to pilot the instructional materials selected by the committee
CDE offers a robust FAQ page that will likely address most of your questions.
Part 3- What if we want an online program or a kit-based program, use open-source materials, or want to design our own program?
So you’ve found some curricula that meet your district’s needs and meet the state science standards. What about the last part of the Williams Act that requires students to have access to the materials at home?
With a textbook, the solution is easy, the textbook can be brought back and forth to school when needed. Some districts have two sets, and some publishers provide enough books to make this possible.
But what if your chosen curriculum isn’t a traditional textbook? That’s okay. The state says “[i]nstructional materials may be printed or non-printed, and may include textbooks, technology-based materials, other educational materials, and tests." The Williams Act was written when most districts used textbooks, but it anticipated other options.
For electronic material, it is possible for students to have accounts to access student portals at home. This depends, however, on students having computers and internet access at home. Some districts and schools provide one-on-one computers for students who don’t have devices to use and help pay for internet access for families that cannot afford it. This doesn’t need to be for all families, only those that need or request it.
Providing access to a computer at school or at the public library is not adequate. After all, homework might be getting started at 9:00 pm on a Sunday night when schools and libraries are not open.
Another solution is to provide a bound book that has standards-based science content and can be used to do homework and assign reading. This is what several kit-based programs already use. Note that photocopied sheets of pages copied to address a shortage are not acceptable for this requirement.
One district that has used this solution is Rialto USD, which has created its own interim NGSS curriculum for middle school. Teacher on Special Assignment and CSTA member Juanita Chan facilitated teams of teachers to select chapters from CK-12 Open Source textbooks to create what is called a Flexbook. Most students can access them as PDFs on digital devices, no internet required. The district print center created PermaBound books that sites could order in the amount needed for about $50 per copy. Each school keeps 30 copies for families who request them or don’t have access to a digital device. A copy of the 8th grade Flexbook that they created is available online. Flexbooks can also be downloaded on devices as PDFs, so if kids had a device at home but no internet, they could still access the Flexbook.
The books do not equal the full curriculum. For example in a kit-based program, the core of the instruction is in experiments done in whole-class settings. The book is a supplement that allows for reading about the science and doing homework. This has been seen as an acceptable solution under the Williams Act.
Whatever the solution your district chooses for instructional materials it needs to be approved of by your school district's board of education. County Offices of Education are the agencies that monitor compliance with the Williams Act, and so ultimately any questions or concerns should be cleared up with your county office.
Was that a great love story or what?