We all know teachers play a critical role in determining what children learn in class. But behind the scenes there’s an array of state and local systems that are all working together to define and shape instruction for California’s public schools.

At the state level

The 11-member California Board of Education is the policy-making body that approves academic standards, curriculum, instructional materials, assessments and accountability across the state. Its members are appointed by the governor.

The California Department of Education, or CDE, is led by the state superintendent of public instruction. This department oversees funding, testing and accountability for all school districts, county offices and charter schools.

Both the California Department of Education and the state board have legal authority under the California Education Code, which is the collection of laws associated with California’s public schools.

At the local level

While following state laws and requirements, school districts generally operate independently under their locally elected school boards and hired superintendents — and they receive support from their county offices of education.

Similarly, charter schools are public schools that operate under a detailed agreement, or charter, with an authorizing agency, such as a school district or county office. Charter schools typically have their own boards and chief executives, and they are required to follow some — but not all — of the state’s laws for public schools.

Ultimately, school districts and charter schools follow state-level guidance, but they also have the autonomy to decide which lessons, tools and resources will best meet the needs of their students. As such, they get to create courses, adopt instructional materials and provide professional learning for their employees.

Getting involved

Families often ask how they can learn more about what their children are learning in the classroom — or how they can get more involved. Here are a few tips:

1. Reach out to your child’s teacher or school principal with questions or comments.

If you still have questions or unresolved concerns, contact the school district’s director of elementary or secondary education. Their contact information is typically listed on the district’s website.

2. Ask the teacher to view the instructional materials your child is working with in class.

3. Attend local school board meetings and submit a card to speak during the public comments section.

School board dates, times and agendas are posted on each district’s website, typically under the heading “Board of Education.” While school board members are prohibited from addressing items that aren’t specifically on that meeting’s agenda, public comments help raise awareness and may prompt discussion at a future board meeting.

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