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, November 21st, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2017 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. For more information regarding proposals, and to submit one today, follow the links below.
Short Course Proposal Deadline: February 6, 2017
Posted: Friday, November 18th, 2016
Do you want to have a voice in health education in California public schools? Consider applying to serve on the Health Education Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee (CFCC), which will work closely with the framework writing team to create a new framework for health education. The new framework will be based on the state-adopted health education content standards and reflect both current research and new state laws.
Applicants must be submitted by 3 p.m. on December 15, 2016. More information about the Health Education Framework revision and the CFCC application is available on the CDE Health Education Curriculum Frameworks Web page at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/he/cf/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, November 17th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
Last month, more than 2,100 science educators convened at the Palm Springs Convention Center for three days of professional learning and networking. The halls buzzed with excitement, the exhibit hall traffic ebbed and flowed like the tides of an ocean, and workshop rooms often filled to capacity with standing room only. CSTA thanks the many volunteers, presenters, exhibitors, and sponsors who helped make this year’s conference a success.
Two of the most popular presentations at the conference included presentations on the new Science Curriculum Framework (which ended up being presented twice due to an error in printing in the program book!) and the Science Assessment Update workshop presented by CDE and ETS. Handouts for both of these presentations are available via the conference app. Learn More…
Posted: Wednesday, November 16th, 2016
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
As a county office Educational Services Director I get to work with many districts, teachers and site leaders on a variety topics, including science. I have the good fortune to be embarking on a new project as part of a team formed by the California State University, Chico – Project ESTEEM.
CSU Chico recruited teams of elementary teachers and their principals to participate in Project ESTEEM, Elementary Science Teachers, Educating, Elevating, and Meliorating; a two-year professional learning grant secured last winter by the University. Learn More…
Posted: Wednesday, November 16th, 2016
by Karal S. Blankenship and Claudia Mitchell
Science in Kindergarten is no different than teaching science in other grades. Students come to us full of wonder, resulting in endless questions. We strive to provide opportunities for our students to become active listeners, use critical thinking skills, to observe, and to make sense of the work around them. This provides our students the chance to develop a deep appreciation for science. This is nuts and bolts of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Learn More…