September 2014 – Vol. 27 No. 1

Call to Action – Science Graduation Mandate Elimination

Posted: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

by Carolyn Holcroft and Marian Murphy-Shaw

In recent months, CSTA has been working to keep members informed about the status of the high school science graduation requirement. Under title 5 section 51225.3, California high school students must complete a minimum of one biological science course and one physical science course in order to graduate, and that second year of science is estimated to cost the state upwards of $200 million annually. Since the state is currently facing its most dire financial situation in decades and state leaders are exploring all options for cost savings, perhaps it’s not surprising that the second-year science mandate has been targeted in Governor Brown’s 2012-2013 budget proposal. At this time it is unclear whether his ultimate objective would be to eliminate only the mandate (and thus absolve the state’s financial obligation going forward) and keep the requirement via statutory change, or if the requirement for the second year of science would be eliminated altogether.

Lawmakers are quick to point out that, should the state requirement become a mere recommendation, local school districts would still be encouraged to exercise their local control option to require two (or more) years of science, and that in no way would it be an invitation to reduce high quality science curricular offerings. Unfortunately, this view seems unrealistically optimistic. While there’s no arguing that the immediate cost of the second year of science is high, should the requirement be eliminated, the cost to both individuals and to society would be far higher, and would likely put our most underserved student populations at the highest disadvantage. Achieve.org notes that to date, at least 80% of jobs in California require at least some postsecondary education, making the removal of the second year science requirement untenable for several reasons.

First, both the University of California and the California State University systems require a minimum of two years of science for freshman admission, and the UCs even recommend three years to be truly prepared. If the second year of high school science becomes optional, this could leave an alarming number of California high school graduates simply ineligible for freshman enrollment at our public four-year institutions. Of course, students unable to enter CSU/UC would still have the option to attend community college and prepare for transfer, there. However, recent cuts to admissions at the CSU and UC level are forcing even more students into the grossly impacted California Community College system that’s facing an extreme financial crisis of its own and most districts are already struggling to meet current enrollment demands. Many community colleges, particularly those in less affluent areas that have the most disadvantaged student populations, would be simply unable to offer the additional science courses needed to serve students seeking that second year of science for transfer.

Furthermore, the current two-year high school graduation requirements are already a minimum and most students are ill-prepared for STEM education at community colleges even now. Many students have to enroll in remedial coursework to catch up, and thus take a longer time to complete their education, delaying their entry into the workforce and increasing the expense of their education, both personally and for California, in terms of lost time, income, and productivity. Even more worrisome is that the lack of adequate preparation sets many students up to fail to complete their education at all. As a result, California ends up with an underprepared workforce and rather than preparing our state to lead the way in scientific innovation, we become less competitive in STEM fields both nationally and globally. For more information read facts about the STEM education crisis in California on the CalPoly website. Weakening the second year science requirement would only serve to exacerbate the situation dramatically at a time when the rest of the nation is moving toward increasing investment in STEM preparation to improve the economic capacity of our nation.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, any erosion of the high school science graduation mandate is unacceptable from an ethical perspective. Should a second year of high school science become merely optional, the associated costs make it likely that our least affluent high schools would be among the first to exercise that option and their students – often the most underserved and underrepresented – would be the first to take the hit. Unfortunately, these are exactly the students most in need of more preparation, not less! California’s ethnically rich, diverse (and majority) population is the future of our workforce and society and we cannot afford at ANY level to fall even further behind in preparing them for success.

So what can YOU do? Please consider a letter or phone call to the State Board of Education and your state legislators, especially those serving on the Senate and the Assembly  Education Committees, or contact Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, chair of the Budget Subcommittee No. 2 On Education Finance. This subcommittee will be holding a hearing on the mandate issue on May 8 at 9:00 am. For more information or to listen in on the hearing click here. The Senate’s Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee No.1 on Education will take up the issue at 9:30 am on May 10. Senator Carol Liu chairs that committee, for more information or to listen to that hearing click here.  We have included a draft letter that you can modify for your own use.

Recommended Letter:

[Date]

The Honorable [Name of Representative]

[Address]

Dear Assemblymember/Senator [Last Name]:

I am a science teacher at [NAME OF SCHOOL] in the [NAME OF DISTRICT] and a member of the California Science Teachers Association. Governor Brown’s proposal in his 2012-2013 budget to eliminate the Graduation Mandate (Second Year Science) is unacceptable and has the potential to put California’s children and future workforce even more behind than where they sit now.

While there’s no arguing that the immediate cost of the second year of science is high, should the requirement be eliminated, the cost to both individuals and to society would be far higher, and would likely put our most underserved student populations at the highest disadvantage. Achieve.org notes that to date, at least 80% of jobs in California require at least some postsecondary education, making the removal of the second year science requirement untenable for several reasons.

First, both the University of California and the California State University systems require a minimum of two years of science for freshman admission. The UCs even recommend three years to be truly prepared. If the second year of high school science becomes optional, this could leave an alarming number of California high school graduates simply ineligible for freshman enrollment at our public four-year institutions. Of course, students unable to enter CSU/UC would still have the option to attend community college and prepare for transfer, there. However, recent cuts to admissions at the CSU and UC level are forcing even more students into the grossly impacted California Community College system that’s facing an extreme financial crisis of its own and most districts are already struggling to meet enrollment demands as it is. Many community colleges, particularly those in less affluent areas that have the most disadvantaged student populations, would be simply unable to offer the additional science courses needed to serve students seeking that second year of science for transfer.

Furthermore, the current two-year high school graduation requirements are already a minimum and most students are ill-prepared for STEM education at community colleges even now. Many students have to enroll in remedial coursework to catch up, and thus take a longer time to complete their education, delaying their entry into the workforce and increasing the expense of their education, both personally and for California, in terms of lost time, income, and productivity. Even more worrisome is that the lack of adequate preparation sets many students up to fail to complete their education at all. As a result, California ends up with an underprepared workforce and rather than preparing our state to lead the way in scientific innovation, we become less competitive in STEM fields both nationally and globally. Weakening the second year science requirement would only serve to exacerbate the situation dramatically at a time when the rest of the nation is moving toward increasing investment in STEM preparation to improve the economic capacity of our nation.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, any erosion of the high school science graduation mandate is unacceptable from an ethical perspective. Should a second year of high school science become merely optional, the associated costs make it likely that our least affluent high schools would be among the first to exercise that option and their students – often the most underserved and underrepresented – would be the first to take the hit. Unfortunately, these are exactly the students most in need of more preparation, not less! California’s ethnically rich, diverse (and majority) population is the future of our workforce and society and we cannot afford at ANY level to fall even further behind in preparing them for success.

I urge you to reject the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the graduation mandate and stand in support of science education for all of California’s children.

Sincerely,

[Name]

Carolyn Holcroft is a biology professor at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA and is CSTA’s 2-year college director.

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s secretary and chair of CSTA’s Legislative Oversight Committee.

Written by Carolyn Holcroft

Carolyn Holcroft

Carolyn Holcroft is a biology professor at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA and is CSTA’s 2-year college director.

7 Responses

  1. “… that second year of science is estimated to cost the state upwards of $200 million annually.” This need not be so. Why is science so expensive? Students still must take SOME course. Does this estimate tell us that science courses are more expensive than math, for example? With close to 1.8 million high schools students, about 500,000 are taking second-year science each year. Therefore, the state estimates that each science student costs $400 more than each math student annually. I’m sure that many science teachers look at their budgets and cannot believe this number.

    There’s only one possible explanation for the higher cost of science — labs! I can account for somewhat more than $100 of that cost as lab costs but have not seen the state’s rationale for the full amount.

    We all know how valuable a great lab experience can be for our students. We also know that we’re facing a budget crisis. However, cutting out the 2-year science graduation requirement is an extreme measure that makes no sense. You can push back directly as this article suggests, or you can find another way.

    Most high schools not only meet the state’s science requirement but also meet the UCOP’s ‘a-g’ requirements — actually just requirement ‘d.’ This requirement makes you provide labs 20% of your instructional time and makes those labs be 100% supervised ‘hands-on’ labs. With technology where it is now, this requirement should be obsolete. This fact leads to another way.

    When the ‘d’ requirement was written, the only substitutes for labs were ‘paper’ labs and simulations. Neither gives students a sufficient experience with real-world data collection and analysis. In that environment, the rationale behind the requirement makes sense, although the actual wording does not. It forces teachers to add labs that may not be the best. Such requirements around the country may have something to do with the National Research Council calling the typical high school science lab experience “poor” in “America’s Lab Report.”

    Today, there’s another choice if you can just get the UCOP to loosen up its rules slightly. Students can take data online interactively from prerecorded real experiments. If only half of the cost of science labs, estimated at $400 per student per year, were saved by requiring 50% supervised hands-on labs instead of 100%, then much of the wind would disappear from the sails of this budget proposal. Even if the prerecorded real experiment route cost $10 per student, it would be peanuts compared with $200.

    In addition, you might even be able to “flip” these online labs by having them done outside of class time. A high school in a poor New York City neighborhood did exactly that and saw their state science test pass rates increase by 1/3.

    I think that you not only should push back but also attack the cost argument by proposing alternatives that provide excellent lab experience with real online experiments. Tell the UCOP to change its rules just a little. Allow 50% online labs but only if they’re real and require students to take their individual data interactively while using their own care and judgment.

    We have the technology. Why not use it?

  2. Labs are expensive! There’s no replacement for the value of the hands-on experience students get in science class. And with today’s ever-expanding biotech industry, students need to be more prepared than ever. How can the U.S. ever keep up in a global economy if we don’t invest in, the science education of our future scientific community, and entrepreneurial spirit that fuels technological l innovation and discovery?

  3. I simply can’t believe that in a state with as many outstanding institutions, the home of both the birthplace of biotechnology and silicon valley, we would have to justify a second year of science. It is simply mindless. We live in a world where our high school kids should be taking FOUR years of science.

  4. I’m getting the feeling that more and more, California will have to import people from outside the state and outside the country to fill jobs that require a good science background. And more and more Californians will not get the college they need because they aren’t qualified and/or can’t afford it.

  5. [...] Learn more at http://www.classroomscience.org/call-to-action-science-graduation-mandate-elimination [...]

  6. “I’m appalled”, that was what Assemblywoman Bonilla said at the budget subcommittee hearing regarding Governor Brown’s proposal to eliminate the second year science graduation mandate. CSTA president Rick Pomeroy was on hand at the hearing to speak out against the elimination of the mandate.

    A revised budget will be released next week. CSTA will keep our readers updated on any developments.

    Thank you for your support!

  7. [...] Call to Action – Science Graduation Mandate Elimination [...]

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