In summary

Proposals to add specific topics to California public school curricula abound, but they take time away from basic academic skills that are already lagging.

Last week, the attorney general’s office completed paperwork for an initiative that, if qualified for the 2024 ballot and approved by voters, would require California’s nearly 6 million public school students to take a course in personal finance.

The proposal, by an organization called Californians for Financial Education, is the latest of several efforts to make personal finance a required subject.

“California has lagged behind the rest of the nation when it comes to personal finance education,” Tim Ranzetta, a financial executive in Palo Alto and founder of the organization, said in a statement. “Only 1% of California students are required to take a personal finance course as a condition for graduation compared to 48% nationally.”

Ranzetta’s proposal is also the latest of many efforts to add specific topics to California’s school curricula. Scarcely a year passes without new proposals to expand required coursework, either as standalone classes or woven into other required classes.

A new state law, dealing with media literacy exemplifies the latter. Beginning next year, the state’s schools must modify existing curricula to include skills in differentiating legitimate journalism from fake news meant to sway opinion, prompted by the proliferation of social media with dubious validity.

“I’ve seen the impact that misinformation has had in the real world — how it affects the way people vote, whether they accept the outcomes of elections, try to overthrow our democracy,” Assemblymember Marc Berman, a Menlo Park Democrat and the bill’s author, told CalMatters. “This is about making sure our young people have the skills they need to navigate this landscape.”

Another new requirement, this one for high school graduation, is ethnic studies, which the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom decreed after years of often heated debate over what should be taught and how.

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Marc Berman

Marc Berman

State Assembly, District 23 (Palo Alto)

Marc Berman

State Assembly, District 23 (Palo Alto)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 23 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 54%
GOP 14%
No party 28%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Marc Berman has taken at least $892,000 from the Labor sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 22% of his total campaign contributions.

The first draft of a model curriculum basically suggested that high school students be indoctrinated into believing that anyone in America not a white male is oppressed.

“At its core,” the draft initially declared, “the field of ethnic studies is the interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with an emphasis on experiences of people of color in the United States,” adding, “The field critically grapples with the various power structures and forms of oppression, including, but not limited to, white supremacy, race and racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia, that continue to impact the social, emotional, cultural, economic, and political experiences of Native People(s) and people of color.”

In response to criticism, particularly from Jewish legislators who said the draft was antisemitic, it underwent two revisions before being adopted as a graduation requirement beginning in 2030. It still contains tinges of left-wing dogma.

New curriculum mandates might seem justified on a standalone basis. Conceptually, it’s laudable that students become more aware of California’s ethnic diversity, more adept at separating legitimate journalism from fake news, and better able to manage their personal finances.

However, there are only so many hours of instruction in a school year and the level of academic achievement in California’s schools is pretty dismal. In the latest round of state test results released last month, fewer than half of students met standards in English skills and scarcely a third in math.

California’s high school students are already required to pass the equivalent of 13 year-long classes in specific subjects for graduation, and a number of additional courses if they want to attend four-year colleges.

Adding new mandates takes class time away from basics that too many students are not already mastering. Financial or media literacy classes are pointless for kids who can’t do math or read at their grade level.

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Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times...