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: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
by Minda Berbeco
Free Entry Days at:
Super-cool Science Parties and Lectures:
Nerd Nite East Bay, Last Monday of the month
Nerd Nite San Francisco, Third Wednesday of the month
Night Life, Thursdays, 6-10 pm, at the California Academy of Sciences
After Dark, First Thursday of the month, 6-10 pm, at the Exploratorium
Café Inquiry, Firth Thursday of the month, 6pm, at Café Borrone, Menlo Park
Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
by Mei Louie
Across the state, California teachers are driving innovation in the classroom and shaping our students’ futures. To support their critical work, a coalition of California colleges and universities is inviting teachers to unite on Friday, July 31, 2015 to build powerful networks, share successful classroom practices and access effective resources to implement state standards.
Thirty-three California campuses are opening their spaces and inviting an estimate of 20,000 teachers to participate in a one-day event. Teachers will have a unique opportunity to hear about proven best practices from nationally renowned speakers, fellow teachers, and leaders in education. The free convening will be led by teachers, for teachers, and will help towards building a powerful lasting network of peers. This is a chance for teachers to come together to collaborate in hope of creating a better future for California students. Teachers will walk away with concrete tools to immediately use in their classrooms to implement the California Standards including the Common Core. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
by Lisa Hegdahl
About 10 years ago, at an after school meeting, our presenter posed the question, “Why did you become a science teacher?” Each of my colleagues gave answers such as, “I wanted to affect the future”, “I loved working with children”, and “I wanted to stay young”. As it came closer for my turn to share, I was in a panic. The truth was, I became a science teacher as a way to get out of a dead end job that had long hours and paid next to nothing.
I have often thought about that day and about the noble motives for entering our profession expressed by my colleagues. Perhaps only those of us who truly have some kind of selfless calling should endeavor to be science teachers. My reflections led me, however, to the conclusion that it is not important how people answer the question, “Why did you become a science teacher?” but how they answer the question, “Why do you continue teaching science?” I continue teaching science because I love it.
I love teaching science for all the usual reasons – I love that I get to teach a subject of which there is always more to learn; I love that I get to observe my students discovering and making sense of the world around them; and I love that I get to delight in the moments when my students teach me something from a perspective I had not previously considered. And yet, I also love teaching science because it is about more than just what happens in my classroom. People say lawyers practice law and doctors practice medicine, suggesting that these professionals continually work to improve their skills and stay current on the latest methods. Similarly, good science teachers practice teaching science, always improving their skills and staying current on the latest methods.
After years as a Science Olympiad Coach, BTSA Support Provider, and Science Department Chairperson at my school site, the pursuit of improving my science teaching skills led me to join, and ultimately volunteer for, the California Science Teachers Association. I began by presenting workshops at the annual, CSTA hosted, California Science Education Conferences. Then, in 2009, Rick Pomeroy, my former UC Davis student teaching supervisor and CSTA President 2011-2013, asked me to join the planning committee for the 2010 California Science Education Conference in Sacramento. He followed the conference committee request with invitations to chair the 2012 California Science Education Conference in San Jose, run for the 2011-2013 CSTA Jr. High/Middle School Director position, and finally, to submit my name for the 2015-2017 CSTA Presidency. Each of these experiences allowed me to network with and learn from other science educators and helped me gain new insights into science teaching. In addition, they opened doors that led to other opportunities to become involved and influence science education at the state level – the CA NGSS State Rollouts, the California Curriculum Frameworks and Evaluation Criteria Committee, and the California NGSS Early Implementation Initiative.
Throughout my involvement in these activities, one thing is repeatedly confirmed for me – there are thousands of talented science educators across California. Most of them are not on the CSTA Board of Directors, its committees, or work with its partners. They are science teachers who go into their classrooms every day and do amazing things. They practice teaching science with a passion for the subject and their students. They are not recognized for their achievements or compensated for their hours of extra work, and yet they will be back tomorrow to do it all again – many spending their own time and money to improve themselves as educators. As I take on the role of President of the California Science Teachers Association, I am incredibly humbled and proud to represent these teachers and I will strive to help them acquire and maintain the support, resources, and policies they need to continue to excel at the job they love.
I want to end with a huge Thank You to 2013-2015 CSTA President, Laura Henriques who is an incredible role model for leadership. Her grace, patience, and expertise were invaluable in preparing me for the next two years.
Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
by Kirsten Franklin
After 25 years as an elementary teacher, I decided to take the leap two years ago to become a TOSA (teacher on special assignment) to support K-12 teachers in my district in science and the common core state standards. There is no specific handbook for doing this, but luckily, there have been great local and state resources to help. I have relied mainly on the trainings and guidance received from BaySci, a San Francisco Bay Area Science Consortium headed up by the Lawrence Hall of Science that my district has been part of since 2008. Membership in CSTA and NSTA, Twitter, reading the NRC Science Framework and the NGSS performance expectations over and over have also helped me to build understanding and confidence in the content and pedagogical shifts. Wrapping one’s head around the NGSS definitely takes time and multiple exposures! Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
by Lori Merritt
Our environment faces many challenges. Human behavior has greatly contributed to these negative changes. Children will be inheriting a world with many environmental problems and need to be prepared to face them. In order for children to care about the environment and have positive environmental behavior they first need to have experiences outside in natural environments (Chawla & Cushing, 2007; Handler & Ebstein, 2010). Unfortunately, children are spending less time in nature, making them less connected to their natural environment. In Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, nature-deficit disorder is described as “the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses” (p.36). In order for our students to be healthy, and environmentally proactive members of society we need to lead them outdoors. Learn More…