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: Monday, April 14th, 2014
The Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP) Rubric for Lessons & Units: Science was released April 11, 2014. The Rubric provides criteria by which to measure the alignment and overall quality of lessons and units with respect to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The purpose of the Rubric is to (1) provide constructive criterion-based feedback to developers; (2) review existing instructional materials to determine what revisions are needed; and (3) identify exemplars/models for teachers’ use within and across states.
This document was developed in response to the recognition among educators that while curriculum and instruction will need to shift with the adoption of the NGSS, there is currently a lack of high-quality, NGSS-aligned materials. The power of the rubric is in the feedback it provides curriculum developers and in the productive conversations educators can have while evaluating materials. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, April 14th, 2014
by Jessica Sawko
On Thursday, April 10, 2014 CDE Staff, friends, and colleagues of CSTA member Phil Lafontaine gathered to celebrate his incredible career as a science educator and state employee of the California Department of Education, and to wish him an enjoyable retirement. There were many CSTA members in attendance to celebrate Phil and his contributions to education, and science education in particular. Phil was presented with several retirement gifts, including a customized San Francisco Giants jersey, and a Senate Resolution honoring his career and service. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
Updated April 8, 2014
K-12 Alliance/WestEd, California Science Project, California Science Teachers Association, Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee, and the California Department of Education Presents: Next Generation Science Standards State Rollout Symposium #1.
Join science leaders at the first of a series of statewide professional learning symposia exploring the philosophy, design, and initial implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Learn More…
What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate: Evaluating Negotiation in an Elementary Science Classroom
Posted: Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
by Mason Kuhn
Engaging students in negotiation with their peers is considered a central motivation for recent national policy recommendations (National Research Council, 2011) and has been a focus of much scholarship in science education (e.g. Bergland and Reiser, 2009 & Hand, 2008). In the Next Generation Science Standards under the heading “Science and Engineering Practices,” the term “Engaging in Argument From Evidence” appears in almost every standard. However, most literature on negotiation focuses on theory, where little focuses on the topic of negotiation as related to science teaching and learning. Learn More…
Posted: Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014
by Laura Henriques
Updated April 8, 2014
This month’s issue of CCS focuses on biology and chemistry. Articles in this issue highlight some of the challenges around teaching these topics as we move towards Common Core and NGSS implementation. Jeanine Wulfenstein points out that the ideas are often abstract and difficult for students to grasp. These topics include a large number of vocabulary words that can get in the way of understanding, especially for English learners and students with special needs. Barbara Woods points out how discrepant events can be used to motivate and engage students by including the wow factor. Both articles provide us with teaching strategies that engage and support students while incorporating aspects of NGSS and Common Core.
I do not think any of us could teach chemistry (or other abstract topics) without using models (one of the NGSS science and engineering practices). A discrepant event or surprising moment causes us to ask questions (another of the science and engineering practices). These questions are followed by investigations, tentative explanations and more investigations as students and teachers try to make sense of natural phenomena (even more science and engineering practices!). This approach puts the student-developed models to the test. Adjustments need to be made and the model gets refined. As they explain relationships, cause and effect, and try to make sense of the science they are seeing, they are meeting Common Core standards and science standards. Learn More…