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, June 24th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) could use the help of a few good science teachers that know a thing or two about the California NGSS. There are currently two test development groups that they are specifically seeking science teachers for. If you are interesting in helping to shape how California prepares its future teachers to take on NGSS, this is an excellent opportunity. The CTC is recruiting teachers to pilot and review test items for the CSET and for Content Expert Panel members for the redevelopment of the California Teaching Performance Assessment (CalTPA). Please consider these opportunities and apply today – the recruitment window closes soon, don’t delay! To apply and for more information visit http://www.carecruit.nesinc.com/.
Posted: Tuesday, June 21st, 2016
ACT NOW! Offer expires June 26, 2016. Flinn has partnered with the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA) to promote a limited-time offer for those interested in attending the Summer Leadership Institute this month.
Call for Free NSELA Membership and Save $225 on Your Registration! The National Science Education Leadership Association is offering this exclusive opportunity to attend its annual Summer Leadership Institute, June 28 – July 1, at the Marriott Mission Valley Hotel in San Diego, California. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, June 21st, 2016
As California embraces new ways of teaching and learning, teachers want more opportunities to connect with and learn from their peers. Teachers are the experts when it comes to the California Standards – no one knows more about what’s working in the classroom and where more support is needed. Yet, too often, teachers are told what they need to learn, rather than asked what would benefit them the most.
On July 29, all California teachers are invited to attend the second annual Better Together: California Teachers Summit, a unique day of learning led by teachers, for teachers. The summit will bring together teachers at nearly 40 locations across the state to share ideas, join a teacher network, and learn effective strategies for implementing the new California Standards in their classrooms. The program will feature keynote addresses by education leaders, TED-style EdTalks presented by local teachers, and Edcamp discussions on timely topics such as the California Standards in English/Language Arts and Math and the Next Generation Science Standards. Teachers will walk away with access to new resources and concrete tools that are already working in classrooms across the state. The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), the California State University (CSU), and New Teacher Center (NTC) are partnering to organize this gathering. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016
by Minda Berbeco
A few years ago, I was at a teacher conference in Atlanta representing my organization, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). I was chatting with a teacher and mentioned how I was going to be giving a talk shortly on climate change education, and the teacher to my surprise said to me, “well I teach chemistry, so that’s not related to me.”
That was a bit of a head-scratcher for me, and I’m sure that notion would be a surprise to every atmospheric chemist who works directly on climate change, or even the many oceanographers, terrestrial and aquatic biogeochemists and even soil scientists who work with climate change every day.
On retrospect though, I think I understand what he was getting at. Climate change isn’t in the chemistry science standards for any state. They aren’t in the life sciences standards for most states either. In fact, until recently if it was anywhere at all, it’d be in earth science or environmental science – which is often an elective at many schools. And yet, from a study that NCSE completed this past year in collaboration with researchers at Penn State, we know that over 50% of chemistry teachers are teaching climate change nationally and over 85% of biology teachers are doing it too! Learn More…
Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016
by Christie Pearce and Marian Murphy-Shaw
The California Science Teacher’s Association is made up of a wide range of individuals and institutions passionate about promoting and supporting science teachers and high quality resources for science education at all levels. It is well known that TK-12 teachers are CSTA members, you may also know that local science centers are members, along with private and Community College, CSU and UC faculty, but did you know that many of your local County Offices of Education have staff who are members?
In this collaboratively composed article, two county office of education colleagues, from opposite ends of the state have combined forces to connect California science teachers with one more resource; your local county office, or county department, of education. While CSTA has 4 identified regions in CA, the 58 counties are part of an 11-region public education system. At these offices your county STEM or Science Coordinators, Educational Services Directors, Curriculum Specialists, Grant Directors and more often serve in multiple roles, many working directly with teachers, TOSA’s, coaches, principals and science education partnerships. Across the 11 regions these “county folks” collaborate, share resources and work directly on projects such as the CA NGSS Rollouts with statewide entities such as the California Department of Education, Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee (CISC), CA Science Project, and West Ed’s K-12 Alliance. (A listing of key science contacts at each of these entities has been compiled by Anthony Quan at the Los Angeles County Office of Education and is available here.)
Questions about what high schools can and should be doing with NGSS seem to be ever increasing- both in number and complexity. CSTA asked if we could compile what the counties are hearing, both the questions and the answers. We started by connecting with our colleagues across the state and asking what questions and concerns they hear most often. If it makes our high school teachers feel any better, you are certainly not alone in wondering about NGSS. Below we have compiled questions and responses. We have tried to replicate the best information we have on hand as of this writing, but also acknowledge that the most important thing to remember is that all of this is still a work in progress. The UC has not finished updating “a-g,” CA science credentialing is being revised, NGSS “content” in 9-12 will look different over time, but that is not going happen in all CA high schools for several years at least. Learn More…