The board's approval of the new standards allows California to stay in the running for a share of $4 billion in federal Race to the Top education funds. But critics argue the standards adopted are too low for California.
"If you set high standards, you will teach to high standards and it will happen," Board of Education Vice President Ruth Bloom said.
In a unanimous decision, the state Board of Education approved a new set of academic standards that puts California on the same page with 33 other states.
"These new content standards are the keys to a shiny new car, with all the latest features," California Standards Commission member Greg Geeting said.
Called "common core," the standards represent goals set in language arts and math for students in public schools. The changes include a greater emphasis on elementary vocabulary development, writing and use of non-fiction literature in both reading and writing. In math, there will be greater emphasis on learning fractions at a younger age and providing Algebra 1 as an option in eighth grade.
Some argue the "common core" math goals are lower than California's current expectations.
Others say the new standards discriminate against minority students.
"How do you regard the deprivation of opportunity to minorities and low income students?" California Standards Commission member Bill Evers asked.
"I think it's racist to say that because kids are minority they can't learn; I think that's ridiculous, the reality is it's really economics," West Contra Costa County school board member Charles Ramsey said.
The student population is 90 percent minority in West Contra Costa County.
Ramsey welcomes the new state standards, but understands the concern that they might lower the bar in California.
"We want to make sure that remediation is not happening and that the standards they are going to adopt don't reduce what we need to have happen here in the state of California," Ramsey said.
The Board of Education believes these new standards are more focused than the previous set and place greater emphasis on critical thinking over memorization. The board directed the Department of Education to develop a curriculum that will help students meet the new goals.