Reducing the Science High School Graduation Requirement – A Step in the Wrong Direction
Posted: Tuesday, June 12th, 2012
by Dean Gilbert
Science education is about more than a body of knowledge, about more than the accumulation of facts and formulas. It is about how we understand the world around us, how we learn to be problem solvers, and about developing skills essential in a changing world. Not only skills of science and engineering, but skills of an engaged, thoughtful, and efficacious citizenry.
Governor Brown’s proposal to eliminate the second year laboratory science high school graduation requirement, as a means of saving 250 million dollars annually, will have devastating consequences for our schools and the nation. It contradicts every message being sent across the airwaves, at every level of government and industry, that science education is critical to the future economy of the United States.
Scores from the 2012 National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, ranks California 47th in the nation in terms of student literacy in science. This national report card reveals that too few students have the skills that could lead to careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly referred to as STEM careers. Statistics like this seem to point to the need for more and better science education, not less. Global competitiveness requires not only graduates interested in STEM careers, but graduates with the essential, everyday skills that STEM education promotes in general.
It starts in elementary school. Current state policy, along with federal accountability measures, significantly limits instructional time for science at the elementary level. Most elementary schools have eliminated science instruction in the primary grades to address state mandates for English/Language Arts and Mathematics. If any science instruction takes place in our schools, it typically resides in fourth and fifth grades, primarily as a response to statewide testing of science at fifth grade. The end result is the promotion of our elementary students to middle school, lacking the foundational knowledge and skills reflected in the California State Science Standards, and, what is necessary to prepare students for the rigor of middle school science.
When students arrive at middle school, the number of years of required science instruction and the quality of this instruction is dependent on whether the school’s report card, the Academic Performance Index, or API, is high enough to avoid being labeled an “underperforming school.” If a school’s API is low, site and district administrators typically respond by cutting instructional time for science, in exchange for English/Language Arts and Mathematics. This decision is predicated on the fact that the state accountability system weighs English/Language Arts and Mathematics at a far higher percentage than other core subjects, almost forcing administrators to divert the school’s instructional time away from science.
As students progress to high school, they are already behind. They lack fundamental science literacy, as well as scientific thinking process skills, and associated skills of critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration. This literacy and these skills are important in rigorous science courses. In high school, with one science class required for graduation, the clear message to students is that science is not important. This compares with other states where the requirement may be three or four years of science.
From my perspective, this is what I predict will be the domino effect as a result to this proposed budget cut:
- School districts that offer comprehensive “a – g” laboratory-based science courses will receive no money for support, resulting in fewer students being enrolled in lab-based sources and more students being enrolled in basic, non-lab based science courses.
- Affluent schools will continue to support quality science instruction with outside funding, while the budget-constrained schools will offer non-college bound courses such as general science, advocating for “reading the text and answering the questions at the end of the chapter.”
- Students of color, who statistically are enrolled in lower-track science courses, will have even less opportunity to meet college science entrance requirements. This magnifies a serious “equity” issue that continues to persist in our schools.
- Students will loose the opportunity to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are nurtured in a hands-on, lab-based curriculum.
- Students unable to enroll in a second-year lab science course to qualify for college will be forced to enroll in these courses at their local community college, after high school graduation, where budget constraints already limit the number of students permitted to enroll in these courses.
- Students not receiving a required and balanced science curriculum throughout their K-12 experience will be less competitive with other states having a three and four-year science requirement for graduation. They will lack the skills required for the 21st century technological workforce, and will be significantly limited in the life skills of critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration that are integral parts of any quality science program.
- With the decrease in course accessibility, fewer students will choose science as a viable career opportunity, at a time when it is estimated that California will need to fill 1.1 million hi-tech jobs by 2018.
Besides the tangible negative affects of this proposed budget cut, what message does it send to people across the globe about cutting science education at a time when our nation is dependent on nurturing young scientists and engineers to solve the current problems of society? What message does it send to our voting citizens that put their trust in an educational system that “theoretically” should be providing a quality, holistic education for our children, but instead, offers limited breadth? Where will this place California in respect to filling the technological workforce pipeline that is already “dried up” and being outsourced to other countries? How would this proposed budget cut, in any way other an attempt for fiscal repair, help improve our schools charged with the responsibility to prepare students for the challenges we face?
As you can see, the current system that supports science instruction in California is seriously flawed. For a state that touts the importance of quality science education, how can this be accomplished when science is only taught for, at best, six of the thirteen years a student is in our educational system, with a proposed decrease to five years? If a student is required to take English and Mathematics every year, why do we continue to perpetuate a system that denies full access to a balanced curriculum that includes science, history/social science, and the arts?
The elimination of the high school science graduation requirement mandate abandons our state’s high standards for career and college readiness. At both a state and federal level, leaders have recognized the need for colleges to graduate more engineers and new teachers who major in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. California would be going in the wrong direction by eliminating the science graduation mandate.
I encourage you to write a letter to Governor Brown and Sacramento legislators in opposition to this budget cut. Any attempt to slash science is an unacceptable response to the state’s budget crisis. Let’s not allow our state decision-makers to devastate the one subject that will provide our financial redemption and restore our competitive edge in the global economy.
Dean Gilbert is CSTA’s region 3 director and a past president.
Posted: Friday, January 15th, 2016
Are you a Next Generation Science Teacher? Have the science teachers at your school participated in current science safety professional development? Did you know that training in science safety is required by CALOSHA to keep employees safe? Do you know what documentation is required to reduce an individual teacher, administrator, and/or the school’s liability?
The Science Safety for Educators Online Course will provide participants with information to build a solid foundation to create a safe science environment for employees and students. It is recommended that schools, districts, and organizations have as a goal to prepare 100% of all science teachers and other related personnel for the ever-changing environment of safety for themselves, others, and students. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 15th, 2016
by Jill Grace
Teachers, the moment is NOW for you to take action to influence how your district supports science education.
I often get inquiries by teachers as to how they can gain access to financial support as they transition to instruction in the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). This includes funding to attend professional learning opportunities (like the state-wide CA NGSS Roll Outs or CSTA’s California Science Education Conference which has a heavy CA NGSS emphasis) or sub-release time for teacher collaborative planning. The lack support in some districts and schools for these activities appears to be a “lost in translation” issue; many principals and district leaders are financially supporting these activities as they relate to English language arts and math, but not science. One of the reasons why we have a lengthy period of time leading to full implementation of the CA NGSS is to give teachers time to prepare: time to refresh on science concepts that are new at your grade-level and time to wrap your head around the shifts in instruction that the CA NGSS call for. The need for this time to prepare for the implementation of the CA NGSS is recognized at the state-level.
“We encourage local districts to begin implementation of the science standards now. The recently released draft of the new California NGSS curriculum framework can serve as an invaluable resource at all grade levels. We recognize the time required to build capacity among teachers and students for these new science standards,” said Mike Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education.
Trish Williams, member and NGSS Liaison on the California State Board of Education (SBE) added: “the State Board of Education knows that the NGSS represent a very different way of teaching from the 1998 California science standards, and knows that change takes time; teachers of science will need professional learning support from their district to explore and become comfortable teaching science with an NGSS three-dimensional approach.” Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, January 14th, 2016
by Lisa Hegdahl
“The overarching goal of our framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science …”
A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas*
In 1985, I graduated from the University of California at Davis, with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology. In 1991, I began teaching 8th grade science in Galt, where our school’s science department determined the topics I taught which, for 7 years, were genetics, sound, astronomy, and body systems. In 1998, the CA Science Content Standards arrived and the 8th grade science curriculum became exclusively physical science – physics, astronomy, and chemistry – a far cry from my Zoological roots. As are many of you, I am now in the process of transitioning to the CA Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) 6-8 Integrated Model which means, once again, changing the core ideas I teach my 8th graders. Instead of strictly physical science, I will now teach Integrated Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Physical Science (along with the Science and Engineering Practices, SEPs, and the Crosscutting Concepts, CCCs). Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, January 14th, 2016
by Anna Van Dordrecht, MA and Adrienne Larocque, PhD
Storytelling, which is fundamental to humanity, is increasingly being used by scientists to communicate research to a broader audience. This is evident in the success of scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson. Capitalizing on this, in our classrooms we both tell stories about scientists under the banner of People to Ponder. Benefits of storytelling for students are numerous, and many align with NGSS. Specifically, Appendix H states that, “It is one thing to develop the practices and crosscutting concepts in the context of core disciplinary ideas; it is another aim to develop an understanding of the nature of science within those contexts. The use of case studies from the history of science provides contexts in which to develop students’ understanding of the nature of science.”
A Person to Ponder – Frances Kelsey
Frances Kelsey was born in 1914 in British Columbia, Canada. She graduated from high school at 15 and entered McGill University where she studied Pharmacology. After graduation, she wrote to a famous researcher in Pharmacology at the University of Chicago and asked for a graduate position. He accepted her, thinking that she was a man. While in Chicago, Kelsey was asked by the Food and Drug Administration to research unusual deaths related to a cleaning solvent; she determined that a compound, diethylene glycol, was responsible. This led to the 1938 passage of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which gave the FDA control to oversee safety in these categories. In 1938, Kelsey received her PhD and joined the Chicago faculty. Through her research, she discovered that some drugs could pass to embryos through the placental barrier. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, January 14th, 2016
by Deborah Tucker, Bill Andrews, and Kathryn Hayes
Regardless of the grade level(s) you teach and the ability levels of your students, if you are looking for collaborative projects that get your students excited about learning while applying the NGSS science practices, read on! We surveyed California teachers who participated in a 4-month Environmental Education (EE) Professional Development (PD) institute in Spring 2015 and found they were re-energized and truly inspired as they facilitated student-driven environmental stewardship projects that encouraged student use of NGSS science practices. Based on participating teacher feedback, your passion for teaching may also be renewed and your students will be proud that they made a difference for the environment!
EE Professional Development Institute
Science practices can be taught at all grade levels in a variety of environment-based projects, as evidenced by 28 teachers (K-12) from the Los Angeles area with an average of 13.5 years of teaching experience. The teachers participated in a 4-month environmental education professional development institute and received in-depth content instruction from experts provided by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the California Environmental Education Foundation (CEEF) in partnership with the CA Department of Water Resources, Sandia National Laboratories, and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District. The institute also focused on effective pedagogy (including the 5Es), required teacher facilitation of a student-driven environmental stewardship project, and provided follow-up support from both the local California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC) Network Coordinator and a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance. The teachers were asked to incorporate two NGSS science practices (#6 explaining and #8 communicating) into the student work. Learn More…