Williams Act and Science
Adapted from: The Williams Act and You - A Love Story
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. 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 Basics of the Williams Act Relating to Instructional Materials
- 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.
- 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. Photocopied sheets are not adequate.
Selecting the Best Curriculum for Your District
When looking for new NGSS curriculum, 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. (See the K-8 Adoption tab.)
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. 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.
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.)
Key Features of the Guidelines (specific to science)
- 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 CASE’s White Paper: Priority Features of NGSS Instructional Materials and see the Resources for Reviewing tab.)
- 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 question.
Williams Act and Online, Kit-Based, Open Source, or Locally-Designed Programs
The Williams Act does not restrict districts to the use of textbooks. It intentionally refers "instructional materials" rather than "textbooks." As defined by the William Act: “Instructional materials may be printed or non-printed, and may include textbooks, technology-based materials, other educational materials, and tests.”
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 use an open source product 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. 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.
District Approval Is Required
Instructional materials must be approved of by the school district’s board of education. County Offices of Education monitor compliance with the Williams Act.