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Calif. Study Raises Alarm Over Elementary Science Education

Most California elementary students are not getting access to high-quality science instruction, or to much teaching in the subject at all, concludes a new report from WestEd.

Forty percent of all elementary teachers surveyed said they spend an hour or less on science instruction each week. Furthermore, only 44 percent of principals believe it likely that a student would receive high-quality science teaching in their school.

Only about one-third of teachers feel "very prepared" to teach science, according to the report, "High Hopes—Few Opportunities: The Status of Elementary Science Education in California." By contrast, more than 80 percent feel very prepared to teach English/language arts and mathematics. In fact, more than 85 percent of elementary teachers surveyed said they have not received any science-related professional development in the past three years.

"Students do not have the opportunities they need to participate in high-quality science-learning experiences because the conditions that would support such learning are rarely in place," the report concludes. "We estimate that only about one in 10 California elementary school students regularly are exposed to the kind of science-learning experiences consistent with the emerging national consensus of what is needed. And across the state, teachers simply do not have time in the school day to teach science."

Research for the WestEd report was conducted by the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and SRI International.

The report cites a variety of obstacles, including a lack of district resources to provide teachers with professional development, a lack of specialized classroom materials, and a lack of assessment systems to provide needed feedback on student progress in science. In addition, the report argues that these problems are "rooted in part in the state and federal accountability systems that place the greatest emphasis on English/language arts and mathematics. These subjects, the report says, "receive the lion's share of political and practical attention."

In closing, the report says that California needs a "new road map for supporting science learning in public schools. Policymakers must review and revise the accountability, resource allocation, and support systems that are driving science education out of our public schools. Strengthening science education must be a priority."

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