January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

High Hopes – Few Opportunities: The State of Elementary Science Education in California

Posted: Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

by Valerie Joyner

The results of the research report High Hopes – Few Opportunities will not come as a surprise to science educators in California. On October 25, 2011, in partnership with The Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, SRI International, Belden Russonello & Stewart, Stone’s Throw Communications, and Inverness Research, The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd released the report on the state of science education in California’s elementary schools. The results of this 2010-2011 study included research surveys of California elementary and middle school teachers, principals, school district leaders, case studies, the results of previous public opinion surveys, and focus groups. While Californians maintain the belief that “high-quality science education” should be a top priority; the reality is that it is not.

The 2010 research survey A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students found 86% of the respondents view science education as critical for California’s students. They further believe (70%) that science education should begin in elementary school in order to keep California and the United States in the forefront of technology and innovation. It is not only the public perception that science education is essential, but 92% and 95% of principals and teachers, respectively, believe the need to have quality science education is a high priority and that it should begin in kindergarten.

Despite public opinion and the opinions of California’s educators the fact remains that science does not exist as a priority in our schools. The study points out several challenges that keep science from being taught in our elementary classrooms; the emphasis on English Language Arts (ELA) and math, limited funds to purchase supplies, limited professional development opportunities, and lack of district support. Teachers point to the lack of time that can be devoted to science because of the state’s continued emphasis on ELA and math, and its associated testing to determine proficiency. As students move up in the grades they begin to spend more time learning science. The majority of kindergarten and first grade teachers report spending less than one hour per week on science instruction and experiences. Yet in fifth grade classrooms where science is tested, about 40% of classrooms spend 120+ minutes per week. The evidence suggests that a majority of our students spend less than one hour on science instruction per week.

About 90% of California’s elementary teachers report that they feel “very prepared” to teach ELA and math, yet only one-third feel they are “very prepared” to teach science. Add to that the feeling of teachers that they lack the background necessary for “high-quality” science instruction, including investigations and inquiry. Science related professional development is lacking and seldom supported by districts. If teachers are to present “high quality” science instruction where students are actively involved in the practices of science, they need strong district support and significant science initiatives.

The report concludes with recommendations that will assist with the development of science education as a priority in our elementary schools where students participate in meaningful investigations, experimentation, and scientific reasoning. These recommendations include providing teachers with district commitment, science expertise, resources, and building partnerships with industry, universities, and science institutions. Additionally, a recommendation was made to allocate the time necessary for science instruction by integrating science across the curriculum.

This is a very powerful study, one that should be used to influence our schools, administrators, and the California legislature. Read the full report at www.cftl.org/science and share it with your colleagues. Reform efforts always take time in education, but when we work together we can accomplish so much. Let us all work to change the title of this study from High Hopes – Few Opportunities, to High Hopes – Many Opportunities!

It is time to take action! Read and discuss High Hopes – Few Opportunities with parents, colleagues, your administration, and potential partners. Take time to share your thoughts, ideas, and implementation efforts with us. Let us all take a first step toward reforming science education!

Valerie Joyner is district science lead teacher for Petaluma City Schools and is the CSTA’s region 1 director.

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

One Response

  1. […] first identify it. CSTA Region I Director and second grade teacher, Valerie Joyner, discusses in her eCCS article this month, the recently released study High Hopes-Few Opportunities-The Status of Elementary Science […]

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

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Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.