April 2014 – Vol. 26 No. 8

Governor Brown’s Proposed Budget Could Be Bad News for Science Education

Posted: Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

by Jessica L. Sawko

In his recently proposed budget for 2012 – 2013, Governor Brown proposes to reform K-14 education mandates by eliminating nearly half of them. One mandate that he is recommending for elimination is the Graduation Requirements mandate that requires students to complete two years of science in order to graduate from high school. The proposed budget refers to this as an “unnecessary mandate.” The proposal goes on to state that “local districts may choose to continue these activities at local discretion.” (p. 140) Click here to view the Governor’s Budget Summary – 2012-13 K Thru 12 Education.  CSTA asks you to note that this is the first draft of the budget and there is work still to be done.  As our colleagues at the Association of California School Administrators stated: “The governor’s budget proposal is only the beginning of the yearly budget debate and discussion.  Often in January, stakeholders tend to overreact to proposals which seem dire and certain to be implemented. Even as ACSA reviews the governor’s proposal, it is challenging to keep the perspective that this is the first iteration of a budget that is likely to see some change in the coming months.”  Please read on to learn more about the issue and possible implications. CSTA will continue to monitor this issue and bring you updates as they are available. 

On February 2, 2010, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) published a report Education Mandates: Overhauling a Broken System. In this report the LAO, explains that the Graduation Requirement mandate passed in the 1980s was anticipated by the LAO to have minimal costs. However a 2004 superior court ruling expanded the scope of reimbursable activities associated with the mandate and it is now estimated that annual claims will reach $200 million per year. The LAO report cited the significant variations in reimbursement rates, ranging from $6 to $264 per student, depending on the district as one reason for the need for reforming the mandate. The LAO report suggests that: “requiring students to take two, rather than one, science class in order to graduate from high school now costs upwards of $200 million annually. Through a simple change to statute, the same requirement could be preserved at no cost to the state by clarifying that districts need to provide the additional science class as part of their regular course of study, which virtually all of them now do.” Given the LAO’s track record on analyzing the impact of the second year science graduation requirement on the state budget back in the 1980s, CSTA has serious doubts that eliminating the mandate will be as inconsequential as predicted in the report.

Unfortunately, the governor’s budget proposal does not make mention of any recommended statute changes described in the LAO recommendation in order to maintain the requirement of two years of science for high school graduation. He simply suggests that giving school districts more flexibility is what they need. Perhaps the Governor is banking on the fact that two years of high school science is still required for admission to CSU/UC universities. CSTA called the governor’s office for comment on the proposed mandate elimination and was informed that the Governor did not have a statement at this time.

In light of the experience we have all had with the implementation of NCLB, it is probable, as noted in a recent news article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat by Phil Lafontaine of the California Department of Education, that given the flexibility provided under the proposed budget, “administrators might be tempted to cut the second science class and use those funds to support more English and math.” He goes on to state that “there are some ramifications there in that the inequality could be children of poverty, children of low means, children that are struggling in school may not get science. How are they going to be competitive with children who are getting two, three, even four years?” Great question!

Also in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat article by Kerry Benefield, H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance, was quoted as saying: “There is no reduction or elimination of dollars in association with the elimination of that mandate. This is being put forward as a part of a broader proposal to provide school districts with greater flexibility and greater local control.” CSTA reached out to Mr. Palmer to clarify the statement about their being not reduction of dollars associated with the elimination of the mandate, however we did not hear back in time for this article.

CSTA also noted something that in light of his current budget proposal would be quite laughable, if it wasn’t so tragic: on his 2010 campaign website he touted that during his first term as governor of California he: “Promoted more Math and Science:  Through the State Board of Education and the Board of trustees of the CA State University System, we increased the graduation requirements to include 3 years of math and 2 years of science.” In that same proposed education plan he promised to: “create local and state initiatives to increase school focus on science, history and the humanities–without reducing needed attention to math and English” and to “place special emphasis on teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). As part of the broader curriculum described above, we need to strengthen STEM teaching and increase the number of STEM graduates. California’s economic growth depends on its continued leadership in innovation, technology, clean energy and other fields that require strong math and science training.” How does eliminating the mandate for a second year of science in order to graduate high school fulfill this campaign promise?

CSTA will be posting more extensive information on this issue in the coming days. CSTA members will receive notice when the information is available. If you are not a member of CSTA, we encourage you to thank your colleagues that are, because their support made it possible for this information to be made available to you. We also encourage you to join CSTA today in order to help CSTA to continue informing you of the issues and fighting for science education in California.

We welcome your comments.

Jessica L. Sawko is executive director of the California Science Teachers Association.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

6 Responses

  1. As K-8 specialist, I can tell you that eliminating the two years of science mandate will continue the discrimination that already exists at my level against minority children of poverty. These kids get either the bare minimum of science instruction (a few hours of prep for the grades 5 and 8 science tests) or none at all as principals deliberately decide to focus on AYP score improvement in ELA and Math because there are few consequences for low API scores in science. This sort of thing happens very, very frequently because administrators are desperate to move those scores up. So the unintended consequence of the NCLB is an inferior education for minority children of poverty. Brown’s proposal will exacerbate this trend.

  2. Why should a second year of science cost so much? Because of the antiquated UCOP lab requirements, that’s why. Let’s face the facts here. Science labs are expensive and take lots of instructional time. Yes, in an ideal world, they serve an extremely valuable purpose. Great lab experiences coupled with integration with the rest of the course teach students to think scientifically and help them to understand the nature of science. These are crucial learning goals in today’s world.

    Yet, the National Research Council has termed the typical high school science lab experience as being “poor.” Lab cost lots. There’s the special facilities devoted to those labs. There’s the increase in insurance costs for schools. There’s the cost of acquiring special equipment. There’s the cost of consumables. There’s the continuing cost of maintaining the facilities and equipment. There’s all of the extra, albeit often unpaid, time for science teachers to prepare and clean up after lab sessions.

    Some day, only two sorts of science investigations will take place in our high schools. The first will be extended projects involving true investigations into the world in which we live. While you can do only a few each year, they can help students to understand much of science. Secondly, you’ll see online science labs for the shorter investigations.

    However, animated simulations often promoted as science labs are no such thing. These cartoons help with visualization and will improve typical test scores for many students, but they do not teach the important things you learn in a really good lab experience. Read the definition of a science lab in “America’s Lab Report” to see what I mean. True labs use data from the material world, not made up data from algorithms.

    Furthermore, a decent science lab requires students to take their own data themselves. Remote labs don’t do that. Probeware has a similar problem. The data appear as if by magic. That approach may be fine for sophisticated students, but it won’t work for the majority.

    Only one online lab approach meets all of the criteria of the National Research Council. It uses real experiments without predetermined or algorithmic data. It requires all students to take their own data. It captures all student activity in an online database for later analysis. It has very low cost.

    This solution is prerecorded real experiments with highly interactive, cloud-delivered software that requires students to use their own care and judgment while taking their own individual data point by point. This remarkable technology can handle just about any experiment scientists can do. Variations in data, errors in set up, normal systematic and random error are all possible and likely given a sufficient number of experiments in each lab.

    In short, this technology provides virtually all of the benefits of the best hands-on labs along with the few benefits of typical virtual labs and without their drawbacks.

    Put the phrase “prerecorded real experiments” into your favorite search engine and see where it takes you. It’s time to tell the UCOP to amend their requirements so that our students can learn more while our schools save money.

    With all of the emphasis these days on “flipping the classroom,” shouldn’t you be considering flipping the science lab?

  3. Please contact your local state assembly and senate representatives about this issue.

  4. Reducing investment in education makes no sense during a competitive global economy that demands 21st century skills and knowledge. It is kind of like expecting workers to perform the skills without teaching them or giving them the means to obtain the skills for the jobs. Not supporting science education for all sounds like the poor don’t deserve science education, and only kids in richer areas get the luxury of being science literate. Ironically, I have previously thought that the rhetoric of supporting science due to the competitive edge it would equip future generations would lead to increasing the number of years students are required to take science classes. I guess my prediction is wrong.

  5. [...] governor seems to feel like science might be more than our graduating high schoolers need as he proposed to decrease the requirement from 2 years of science to only one.  And here, I’m still struggling . . . because it is true that it is challenging to work [...]

  6. [...] Governor Brown’s Proposed Budget Could Be Bad News for Science Education [...]

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