Does Science Stand a Chance Against English and Math?

Even while the Obama administration pushes for increased focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, California has virtually removed science from many of its elementary schools. Blame has been placed on everything from budget cuts to a renewed emphasis on math and English. Is it ever a good idea, especially in this technological age, to deny children an education in science?

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'Quite Frightening' Research

In October 2011, a new study did not shed a favorable light on the state of science education in California elementary schools. Debbie Kaplan, superintendent of the West Covina Unified School District, told the Whittier Daily News that she found the research 'quite frightening actually.'

The focus on English and math has all but 'pushed science education out of California's classrooms,' say the authors of the study, titled 'High Hopes - Few Opportunities: The Status of Elementary Science Education in California'.

A 'Decline in Scientific Thinking'

Science teacher Rob Zaccheo of San Jose's Pioneer High School told MercuryNews.com that he has seen a 'basic decline in scientific thinking' over the past several years, and he feels the study results simply reflect what he has been witnessing. Still, some might have been surprised to find out just how bad it is:

  • Only 10% of elementary schools in California offer high-quality science instruction.
  • In 40% of cases, teachers say science is given only 60 minutes or less of instruction time per week (far less than the recommended, though not mandated, 90-135 hours per week).
  • More than 60% of teachers say they do not have the adequate supplies to teach the subject.
  • More than 90% of teachers say it is 'challenging' to find the time to teach science, and 85% claim not to have had any career development in science in the past three years.

Lack of Preparation

An April 2010 study by the California Council on Science and Technology found that many elementary school teachers simply do not feel prepared to teach science.

According to the study, most first-year teachers feel they lack the skills to teach science. The study also concluded that seasoned teachers feel their proficiency levels in the subject match that of their less experienced counterparts. The study went on to cite a 2007 report that found the focus on preparing teachers to teach science had been placed on high schools and not elementary or middle schools.

In some schools, the lack of time and preparation for science has led to teachers attempting to work science into other subjects, such as math or language arts. But is that a viable solution? Some say it's better than nothing, but is far less than ideal.

Can Science Be Saved?

So how to bring science back to the classroom? Some would say the solutions aren't...well, rocket science.

The study recommends that first, state and federal testing should include more science and not focus so much on English and math. More teacher training and development is also important. The authors even advocate teaching science to students as early as possible, namely, to kindergartners.

The authors say that the public wants more science education and that many realize it is a 'high priority'. They are likely right. When one elementary school district in Illinois began alternating teaching science and history throughout the year, an editorial in the August 19, 2011 edition of the PalatinePatch not only questioned the decision, but provided statistics showing why science should be taught every day.

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