Schools: Make us teach science or we won’t

California will require only one year of science to graduate from high school if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget is approved, reports the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.

It’s part of a move to give school districts more flexibility on how they use limited funds, says Brown’s budget director.

School leaders say schools will spend even more time on reading, writing and math if the state requires less science.

“To me, it’s absolutely astounding that the state of California, our leadership, would actually believe it would be appropriate not to have more science and actually have less science,” said longtime Santa Rosa School Board member Frank Pugh. “I hope the public really understands — they are dismantling, day-by-day, public education.”

Funding flexibility lets districts shift money to required programs or drop expensive classes, such as lab science, in favor of lower-cost classes, educators  said.  In recent years, that’s happened to adult education, maintenance, art supplies, career technical and libraries.

“I imagine that districts that are really struggling financially will probably pocket the money to help their finances,” Pugh said.

College-bound students need at least two years of lab science to apply to state universities. The change will affect students who aren’t on a college-prep track. Some might benefit from the flexibility to pursue career options, said Nancy Brownell, assistant superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Others believe all students need two years of science. “It’s a way to become analytical,” science teacher Patty Dunlap told the Press-Democrat.  “They don’t realize they are going to have to analyze everything they do in life,” she said. “All of our kids deserve the opportunity to have a well-rounded education.”

Of course, school districts can require more science than the state minimum.

Update: California’s science standards received an A in Fordham’s State of the State Science Standards 2012. Most states received a D or F.

In particular, state standards struggled with vagueness and an overemphasis on “inquiry-based learning” instruction, while overwhelmingly failing to clearly convey the crucial connection between math and science. Although the treatment of evolution has improved since Fordham’s last assessment of state science standards in 2005, many states still miss the mark on teaching this vital topic.

The District of Columbia also earned an A, while Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Virginia got an A-.  The F states, according to Fordham, were Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

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  1. For all of the talk about the importance of lab sciences, students would be better off learning some science without the lab (and therefore without the ‘high cost’) than reading more content-less material. I teach biology (and labs) and know that some things are best taught hands-on, but plenty of topics can be read about or demonstrated by the teacher. With everybody eventually having to make medical decisions, a lack of biology is scary.

  2. I am not convinced that everyone needs lab sciences, in the sense of the students doing labs themselves. Teacher demos and the availability of high-quality internet/DVD resources are sufficient for many. In my small-town HS, everyone took biology, but without a student lab component. The college prep kids did have chem and physics labs, but other students did not. Also, real chem and physics require a math background that many will lack. Pretending that ALL are able to do or interested in a real college prep curriculum is perpetuating a fraud that will short-change those students who are prepared and motivated.

    At the ES-MS levels, science should be an integral part of every grade. All students should learn the basics of all of the disciplines. (not just sciences)

  3. Don’t forget, there’s an app for that:

    I didn’t learn much in biology lab or chemistry lab, but we only occasionally went to the lab part of the classroom. I think the lab part could be cut without serious harm. It’s dropping the requirement down to one year of science that’s the real harm. How can these kids grow up to think for themselves on issues like climate change or evolution vs creationism or ocean acidification (even that would probably be some watered down biology survey course – can’t even touch on Krebs cycle, for example, because kids have no chemistry)?

    I had five years of science in high school (one of biology, two of chemistry and two of physics) and four years of math (and I wasn’t alone, there were a bunch of us). A lot has obviously changed, what do kids take these days in high school? Where do they spend their time?

  4. I worry that easing the requirements will mean districts cutting courses that have sufficient demand just to save money. I agree that it doesn’t make sense to force uninterested students to take lots of lab science. However, kids who want to study science ought to have those classes available to them. Is science going to go the way of most foreign languages in the state’s schools?

    • I certainly see your point, but requiring more math and sciences for all students may dilute the classes for those who need the real college-prep versions, especially in schools too small to offer two options for each science. I have read that South Dakota has just added not only algebra II but chem and physics to their graduation requirements. I am familiar enough with the upper Midwest to know that there are LOTS of really small schools in SD; I think there are almost 100 with 9-12 student populations of less than 100. The -few- cities will undoubtedly offer real versions and lite versions, but there’s no way to wave a magic wand and make all kids capable of or motivated to acquire the level of math necessary for serious chem and physics, so some capable kids will have STEM options removed, through no fault of their own.

  5. There’s a sense in which I’m glad that the requirements for science will be lowered. At the same time, I agree with Crimson Wife when she said that those students who are interested in taking one or another science class ought to have that option available to them. Not everyone will become a doctor or some sort of scientific researcher.

    “Others believe all students need two years of science. “It’s a way to become analytical,” science teacher Patty Dunlap told the Press-Democrat. ”They don’t realize they are going to have to analyze everything they do in life,” she said.”

    Perhaps science is a way to become analytical. But, it certainly isn’t the only way. And, the onus is on anyone who says that it is the best way. I can analyze issues and I don’t have a scientific background. At the very least, being logical and empirical helps one to execute analyses.

    • I reiterate: “How can these kids grow up to think for themselves on issues like climate change or evolution vs creationism or ocean acidification?” If you’re had one lousy year of high school science (probably biology), you simply don’t have the foundation to understand these questions, much less cast votes on them. It’s not like this foundation is expensive to deliver: we did it with far less money forty years ago.

      It’s as if the educational system were being more and more redesigned to turn out students who will not vote based on knowledge and analysis (of anything), but instead will be swayed by simple emotional appeal. You should never assume evil until you have discarded incompetence, of course, but every day it looks less like incompetence and more like a plan: relentlessly undercut the culture so as to destroy the desire for learning and the status of the learned, destroy the curriculum so that no one learns much no matter what grade they get, and encourage the idea that one’s feelings are more “right” than any logical and fact-based conclusion. Repeat for twenty years and you’ve got a generation swayed only by emotional appeal – from either side.

      Still wonder why politics has become so childish?

  6. And this crap will continue unless and until we abolish the Department of Edjumakashun, and return control to the states and local communities!