California Middle Schools Lag in Science

March 27, 2012

If your children are in the California schools, take note. We’ve learned in recent months that they probably won’t spend much time learning science in elementary school, and they might not have to take much science in high school. Now a new study from WestEd and the Lawrence Hall of Science shows that their middle school experience might be a bit better, but still far from ideal.

The survey did find some moderately good news. In almost all the districts they surveyed, “more than three quarters of students in grades 6-8 are enrolled in science courses.” More than two out of three teachers said they had access to the internet and equipment “such as a sink and measuring tools.” About three in four said they had “majored in a science-related field or having obtained a single-subject credential for teaching science.”

All good news is of course relative. You’d think, for example, that every student in grades 6 through 8 would be taking science, but maybe beggars can’t be choosers. It's also worth noting that a sink and measurement tools (like beakers) aren’t necessarily state of the art science equipment, even for middle schools. And it’s troubling that one in four middle school science teachers in California has “neither a background nor a single-subject credential in science.” The numbers are worse in schools that serve mostly low-income students.

Perhaps most startling is the finding that that only about 14 percent of teachers “use a pattern of classroom practices that supports regular engagement in the practices of science.” In other words, fewer than one in five regularly have their students “work in groups; do hands‐on or lab science activities or investigations; design or implement their own investigation; participate in fieldwork; record, represent, or analyze data; write reflections; and present to the class.” That is bad news for California students.

Science, it seems, is getting short shrift in California’s elementary, middle and high schools. The state can ill afford to stay on this course. Its fourth and eighth grade scores in science are among the nation’s lowest. States often reap what they sow.

Tags: STEM & the states, science