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.
Introduction to the Next Generation Science Standards: A Paradigm Shift in Teaching & Learning – Two Locations
Posted: Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
This full-day workshop will highlight the many shifts required of both teachers and learners under the Next Generation Science Standards. In the morning session, participants will engage in an overview of the NGSS and its Three Dimensions. During the afternoon sessions, participants will be invited to experience either a K-5 or 6-12 session. Each of these sessions will further explore the NGSS with an emphasis on the impact it will have within K-5 and 6-12 classrooms.
This workshop is co-hosted by CSTA and CASCD – members of either organization may register at the member rate! Registration for the full day is only $90 if you register by the early bird deadline and includes lunch.
Participants will leave with:
- An awareness of the NGSS and its Three Dimensions as they reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world
- An awareness that the Performance Expectations will guide instruction and assessment
- An awareness of how the NGSS is aligned with the Common Core State Standards
- An awareness that the NGSS supports 21st Century Learning
Presenters: Jared Marr, Staff Development & Curriculum Specialist and Michelle French, Staff Development & Curriculum Specialist at the Tulare County Office of Education Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
Hosted by CSTA and the Aquarium of the Pacific, sponsored by Chevron.
Thursday, December 4, 2014, 7:00-10:00 PM
It’s a Night at the Aquarium! Unlike the movie by a similar name, we don’t need movie magic for this place to come alive at night. You will be surrounded by the amazing living creatures from the Pacific Ocean. See what they do at night (certainly not grading papers).
Join your CSTA colleagues and conference attendees for an amazing evening at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. Just steps away from the Convention Center and area hotels, the Aquarium will be all ours for the night. You will be able to wander through the aquarium, see sharks, touch rays, observe jellies, see the newly born penguins and all the other wonderful animals who make the LBAOP their home. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
by Laura Henriques
It is early August as you read this. For lots of people, August means summer vacations. For educators, however, August means it is time to begin another school year. I tend to think of the start of the school year as New Year’s Eve. My husband, also an educator, and I toast the start of the school year in ways that most people toast the start of a new calendar year. We reflect on the past year and set goals for the year ahead. Just like New Year’s resolutions, the act of setting educationally related goals helps keep me on track. My New Year’s resolution of going to the gym five times a week may not pan out, but having committed to improve my level of physical activity has been clearly stated and set as a goal. Similarly, as I set my goals for the academic year I am making a commitment to do something to improve my practice, my skills, or content knowledge. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
by Jill Grace
I kept hearing about it for years. THE NOTEBOOK. It sounded interesting, it had good research street cred, everyone seemed to rave about it, BUT…I was intimidated. What is up with the input-output stuff? Besides, I was already doing a good job teaching, right?
It wasn’t until one particular bunch of kids in one particular school year that I realized I NEEDED to take the plunge. It was no longer an option. It was a tough group that year. I found I was hitting my head against the wall trying to help some underachieving students be successful. I figured that if the “Interactive Notebook” (which I will refer to as IN) was good for improving the literacy of students learning English then it had to be beneficial for all students. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
by Lisa Hegdahl
I enjoy my job. When someone mentions that summer is almost over, I imagine the well-behaved, cooperative students that will be joining my class, just like the ones that I said goodbye to in June. Except…the students who will enter my classroom in August are not the students from this past June. It’s easy to forget that those students were well-behaved and cooperative because I taught them to be that way. Learn More…