Tom Adams Extended Interview

December 7, 2016

By Tom Adams, Deputy Superintendent at the California Department of Education

Tom Adams Q & A for Power of Democracy Winter Newsletter

Tom Adams, Deputy Superintendent at the California Department of Education, oversaw the recent update of the California History-Social Science Curriculum Framework which was last updated 11 years ago. 

On July 14, 2016 the State Board of Education adopted a new History-Social Science Curriculum Framework. Why was hands-on civic learning emphasized?

Early in the development of the framework, many participants in the focus groups stated a need for making history-social science an active learning process. Hands on learning is one  way to translate the knowledge students learn in their classrooms into meaningful activities. In response, the State Board of Education (SBE) approved guidelines for the development of this framework on November 5, 2008, and updated them on September 3, 2014. Those guidelines ensured that the framework would “promote the values of civic engagement and civic responsibility.” The SBE also called for the framework committee to incorporate into the criteria for evaluating instructional materials “civics education, including material that impresses upon students the importance of American values and civic responsibilities.”

During the development of the framework, Senate Bill 897 (Chapter 480 of the Statues of 2014) and Assembly Bill 1599 (Chapter 327 of the Statues of 2014) were signed into law. These bills included interlocking provisions that called for input of civics education experts in the development of the framework, and other content related to civic learning. At the same time, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Chief Justice’s California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning created a blueprint to address four key areas for California school communities and students in grades K-12: Curriculum, Instructional Practices, and Resources; Professional Learning; Community and Business Partnerships; and Student Assessment and School Accountability. The result was Revitalizing K-12 Learning in California: A Blueprint for Action. 

As a result, examples of hands-on learning in civic learning were included in the framework–participating in mock debates, mock trials, attending local government meetings, and volunteering in elections.

How and why were Civic Education organizations represented and involved in the process?

Civic education groups were involved from the very start of the framework development process. Members of various civics organizations such as the California Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, the Constitutional Rights Foundation, and the Center for Civic Education were present at the meetings of the Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee that took place throughout the spring of 2009. In 2014, the California Task Force on the K-12 Civic Learning and its accompanying Revitalizing K-12 Civic Learning in California: A Blueprint for Action informed the development of the final drafts of the Framework. Members of these and other civic education organizations provided extensive public comment during the two public field reviews of the framework that were conducted during the fall of 2014 and winter of 2016.

How did the input of these groups impact the content of the new HSS Framework?

The groups referenced above provided extensive suggestions related to civic education that were subsequently added to the draft, both in the original development during 2008-09 and the revisions that took place when the process resumed in 2014-16. In particular, the civic education groups collaborated in the development of two appendices that were completely rewritten from the previous 2005 framework:

  • Appendix D: Educating for Democracy: Civic Education in the History–Social Science Curriculum

This appendix includes the six proven practices from the 2002 Civic Mission of Schools report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and connects civic learning to the Common Core and 21st Century Learning.

  • Appendix H: Practicing Civic Engagement: Service Learning in the History-Social Science Framework

This appendix provides definitions, examples, and reasons for encouraging service learning in the curriculum.

In addition to the appendices, new content on civics was inserted throughout the framework, as noted below.

Specifically, how does the new curriculum framework provide guidance and resources to help California K-12 administrators and educators make robust civic available for all students?

The framework includes more than thirty detailed classroom examples from a wide range of grade levels that show teachers how they can tailor instruction to address not only the history–social science standards, but also the English Language Arts/Literacy and English Language Development standards. The classroom examples include a number with a civic focus, such as:

  • Kindergarten: Being a Good Citizen (Integrated ELA and Civics)
  • Grade Three: Classroom Constitution (Integrated ELA and History–Social Science)
  • Grade Five: The Preamble
  • Grade Eight: The Civic Purpose of Public Education
  • Grade Twelve: Judicial Review

In addition to the classroom examples, there are many places in the course descriptions where there are suggestions for activities that engage students in civic learning. Some examples include:

  • Studying key American symbols and heroes through grade-appropriate literature, songs, and images in kindergarten through grade three
  • Simulations of government activities (e.g., a congressional hearing debating the bill of rights in grade five, planning and participating in a mock election in grade eight, or conducing mock trials of landmark Supreme Court cases in grade eleven)
  • Suggestions for engaging in service-learning projects such as voter education and registration activities
  • Suggestions for inquiry-based projects that include student interviews of legislators and other public officials, civil rights activists, or members of the military
  • Suggestions for ways that students can get involved in campaigns to address local issues at the school or community level (e.g., recycling, campus safety)

What resources are now available to guide classroom instruction and service learning, both critical to hands-on civic learning? 

In addition to the many resources referenced in the framework, the California Department of Education maintains a list of civics, government, and service learning resources on its Web page at

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson co-sponsors a Civic Learning Award for Public Schools in conjunction with California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. The awards are designed to both celebrate successful efforts to engage students in civic learning and to identify successful models that can be replicated in other schools. More information about this program is at

Recently, “Civics” was added as a prominent search term on My Digital Chalkboard (, a key resource for educators. More than 150 free civics lessons and resources, all recommended by Civic Learning Partnerships across the state are searchable by grade levels K-12.

How does CDE expect this focus on civic learning to support overall student achievement?

As stated in the report Revitalizing K-12 Civic Learning In California: A Blueprint For Action, “High-quality civic learning also helps teach children skills they need for the 21st century workplace, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, initiative and innovation. In addition, civic learning done right engages students by making what they learn at school more relevant to real life. It promotes academic achievement, as well, and prevents some students from dropping out.” The CDE has been working with the Power of Democracy Steering Committee to implement the recommendations of the California Task Force on K–12 Student Learning and ensure that all students have the opportunity to become informed and engaged citizens. Ultimately, civic learning will be measured by participation in future elections and civic engagement.