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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation 1 The Challenges Facing California Key Points Many indicators point to severe weaknesses in California’s science education systems at the kindergarten through eighth grade (K-8) levels. K-8 students in California spend too little time studying science, many of their teachers are not well prepared in the subject, and the support system for science instruction has deteriorated. A proliferation of overly detailed standards and poorly conceived assessments has trivialized science education. Yet there exists a solid base on which to strengthen K-8 science education in California and across the nation, including a nascent movement toward common national standards, new research findings on effective educational practices; the involvement of scientific, business, and philanthropic organizations in many schools; and the growing realization that science education must improve to support future prosperity. Our children’s future will be filled with incredible, advanced technologies—the likes of which we can only dream of today…. Science literacy, therefore, will no longer be an advantage, but an absolute necessity for success. —Arnold Beckman
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation The storm that threatens the economic prospects of California— and the rest of the United States—is clearly visible, said Jacqueline Dorrance, executive director of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, in her welcoming remarks at the convocation “It Takes a Village: Sustaining Effective Education Programs in Science for Grades K-8.” California has ranked near the bottom of all states in the percentage of fourth graders at or above proficiency in science (see Figure 1-1). According to a national poll conducted by the Bayer Corporation (1995), 68 percent of parents and 64 percent of elementary school teachers do not consider themselves to be scientifically literate. In international tests conducted as part of the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA),1 U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 25th out of 30 countries in mathematics and 21st in science (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007). The number of people who speak and are learning English in China is greater than the population of the United States (Yang, 2006). The top quarter of students in India outnumbers the total number of students in the United States.2 Between 2005 and 2006 the United States dropped from first to sixth place in the World Economic Forum’s index of global economic competitiveness (World Economic Forum, 2006). An estimated 14 million U.S. workers (11 percent of the total workforce in 2001 at the time when the estimate was made) currently occupy jobs that have the potential to be outsourced to other countries (Bardhan and Kroll, 2003). SCIENCE EDUCATION IN CALIFORNIA As the world continues to change at an ever-faster pace, policy leaders in the United States must ask themselves how they can help prepare the nation’s children to succeed in an increasingly competitive and technologically advanced workplace, Dorrance said. “Are we to give up our competitive edge? Are we to rely on other countries to fill our scientific workforce?” Are we to give up our competitive edge? Are we to rely on other countries to fill our scientific workforce? —Jacqueline Dorrance 1 For additional information, see http://www.pisa.oecd.org/pages/0,2987,en_32252351_32235731_1_1_1_1_1,00.html. 2 For additional information, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K04o2ic4g-A.
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation FIGURE 1-1 In 2005, California fourth graders ranked in the lowest quartile of U.S. states in science proficiency. SOURCE: National Science Board (2008, pp. 8-14). Over the course of the convocation, which took place on April 29-30, 2009, at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, California, other speakers pointed to the many ways in which science education in elementary schools, middle schools, and junior high schools is failing to prepare California students for the future. Rena Dorph summarized a study of science education in elementary schools in the San Francisco Bay Area conducted by the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Assessment at the University of California at Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science and WestEd (Dorph et al., 2007). The study collected data from a wide variety of sources, including districts, teachers, and science-rich education institutions, such as science centers, museums, and laboratories. Although the Bay Area is a center of innovation in science and technology in the United States, school districts there face challenges similar to those faced across the state. The study shows that 1 in 7 Bay Area teachers has been teaching less than two years, and in 16 Bay Area districts (representing 20 percent of Bay Area students) 20 to 35 percent of the teachers fall into this category, including many of the districts that serve the largest populations. In spring 2007, just 46 percent of Bay Area fifth graders scored at a proficient level or above on the California Standards Test in science, which is slightly better than the 37 percent of all California fifth graders who scored at this level, but still alarmingly low. The amount of time spent on science in Bay Area elementary schools is very limited, Dorph pointed out. According to teacher surveys, 80 percent of K-5 multiple-subject teachers spend 60 minutes or less on science
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation FIGURE 1-2 A survey of Bay Area teachers in self-contained K-5 classrooms showed that only one in five spends more than an hour on science per week. SOURCE: Dorph et al. (2007). Copyright © 2007 The Regents of the University of California. Used with permission. per week (see Figure 1-2). One in six multiple-subject elementary school teachers reports spending no time at all on science. Teacher and district surveys indicate that less time has been spent on science since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which initially mandated regular testing in mathematics and reading but not science. In particular, many districts with schools that have been targeted for improvement because of their poor test results in mathematics and reading report spending little or no time on science. The survey also found that teachers feel less prepared to teach science than they do to teach other subjects and they have few opportunities to improve their preparation. According to the survey of teachers, 41 percent feel unprepared to teach science compared with 4 percent in both mathematics and language arts (see Figure 1-3). A study by the chancellor’s office of the California State University system found similar results, said Eilene Cross of the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST). According to that study, only about 40 percent of elementary teachers feel that they have been well prepared to teach science (California State University Center for Teacher Quality, 2008).
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation FIGURE 1-3 Many multiple-subject K-5 teachers in the Bay Area feel less adequately prepared to teach science than they do for other subjects. SOURCE: Dorph et al. (2007). Copyright © 2007 The Regents of the University of California. Used with permission. Cross is currently engaged in a qualitative study of the gap between standards-based, high-quality elementary science education and the preparation prospective teachers receive in college to teach science. Information is being gathered from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing,3 from teacher preparation programs, and from elementary schools. A high-level advisory group of CCST members and representatives from the private sector is providing guidance on research questions, data sources, and presentation of results. In addition, focus groups of educators and others are providing insights into the data and the preliminary findings. The results of the study will inform statewide initiatives in elementary science education. The goal is to “describe what’s going on in the classroom and make recommendations for the future,” said Cross. Furthermore, according to the Dorph et al. study, most districts offer minimal professional development in science. Over the past three years, 32 percent of multiple-subject elementary school teachers in self-contained classrooms report receiving fewer than six hours of professional development in science, and 38 percent report receiving none (see Figure 1-4). 3 For additional information about the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, see http://www.ctc.ca.gov/.
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation FIGURE 1-4 More than two-thirds of K-5 multiple-subject teachers in self-contained classrooms reported receiving either no or less than six hours of professional development in science over the past three years. SOURCE: Dorph et al. (2007). Copyright © 2007 The Regents of the University of California. Used with permission. About half of districts report that they do not have capacity in district offices to support science at the elementary level. Anne Marie Bergen, a middle school teacher from the Oakdale Joint Unified School District who also serves as chair of the California Teacher Advisory Council for the California Council on Science and Technology,4 emphasized the lack of preparation many elementary school teachers have received in science. “Many teachers are not comfortable teaching science,” she said. “Even if they are excellent teachers, they don’t feel competent. They feel … insecure with content and intimidated by using materials.” Many teachers are not comfortable teaching science. Even if they are excellent teachers, they don’t feel competent. —Anne Marie Bergen 4 For additional information about the California Teacher Advisory Council, see http://ccst.us/ccstinfo/caltac.php. For additional information about the California Council on Science and Technology, see http://ccst.us.
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation FIGURE 1-5 The population of California is becoming ethnically more diverse. SOURCE: California Budget Project (2008). Teacher preparation at the university and college level is a major contributor to this problem, she said. Most prospective elementary school teachers do not receive the preparation they need in science, either in college or once they begin teaching. Some teachers seek out professional development to improve their knowledge of science and science instruction, but that is the exception and not the rule. Elementary school teachers also need supportive schools and communities to be able to teach science well. “The school board needs to understand what good science looks like, your principal really has to understand it,” Bergen said. “You also have to have parents who understand it, and to understand it they need to see what it looks like. That’s a huge issue.” The student population in California has become increasingly diverse, as is the case in many parts of the United States, and it will become even more so in the future (see Figure 1-5). For example, English language learners constitute a large fraction of the students in many of California’s districts. Kathy DiRanna, the statewide director of WestEd’s K-12 Alliance,5 observed that one-third of the nation’s English language learners are in California, and they constitute about a quarter of the K-12 students in the state. About 54 percent of students in Orange County’s Santa Ana 5 For additional information about the K-12 Science Alliance, see http://www.wested.org/cs/we/view/pj/79. For additional information about WestEd, see http://www.wested.org/cs/we/print/docs/we/home.htm.
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation Unified School District are English language learners, and they constitute 38 percent of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District and 28 percent of students in the San Francisco and the San Diego Unified School Districts. Many English language learners are in schools and districts that lack resources, and they are often in districts with many beginning teachers. Furthermore, it is a very diverse population, with great differences in the language they speak, their parents’ backgrounds, whether they are literate in their home language, and the number of years they have lived in the United States. Dennis Bartels, the executive director of the Exploratorium in San Francisco,6 described a transformation that he observed in California science education in just the past few years. In 2001, when Bartels left an earlier position at the Exploratorium to become president of the education research and development center TERC in Massachusetts, the state had “a robust system of support for science education and for all of education,” he said. When he returned to become executive director of the Exploratorium in 2006, “I could not believe how much had changed in just five years. What the hell happened?” In addition to the emphasis on mathematics and reading created by the No Child Left Behind legislation, a series of state budget crises severely limited the resources devoted to education. Another major change, according to Bartels, was the loss of an extensive system of supports for science teachers. In 1989 the National Science Foundation supported more than 60 teacher enhancement projects in California, whereas today its involvement in teacher preparation in California is much reduced. Also, as recently as 2001, the California Subject Matter Project,7 a professional development organization for California educators, was a model for other states, particularly in the area of science. “The program disappeared over-night except for some minimal funding for science,” said Bartels. In 2007 the state had about one-third of the support dollars for science that it had just seven years earlier. The consequences of these many weaknesses in California’s science education system are obvious, said Susan Hackwood, the executive director of CCST. Only 4 percent of ninth graders in California ultimately graduate from college with a degree in science or engineering (California Council on Science and Technology, 2002). As many as 60 percent of college freshmen intending to earn such a degree do not do so. “California is very good at inventing technologies and bringing them to practice,” said Hackwood. But “we’re lousy at producing the workforce that is going to populate the jobs that we create. We rely entirely on bringing in people 6 For additional information, see http://exploratorium.com. 7 For additional information, see http://csmp.ucop.edu.
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation from other states and other countries…. If we don’t have that flow of people coming into California, we’re dead.” GOALS FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION In his opening remarks at the convocation, Bruce Alberts of the University of California, San Francisco, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, and now the current editor-in-chief of Science, said that he has three goals for science education: Enable all children to acquire the problem-solving, thinking, and communication skills of scientists so they can be productive and competitive in the new world economy. Foster a scientific temperament for the nation, with scientifically trained people in many professions, to help ensure the rationality and tolerance essential for a democratic society. Help the United States generate new scientific knowledge and technology by casting the widest possible net for talent. The National Science Education Goals that Alberts promoted as president of the National Academy of Sciences in the 1990s were designed in part to achieve these objectives (National Research Council, 1996). But what followed was often a “disaster,” according to Alberts, as individual states produced their own standards for science education and often paid little attention to the national standards. The science standards adopted in California in 1998, for example, were much more detailed than the national standards. The proliferation of different state standards means that textbook publishers had to try to match the needs of multiple states. As a result, they crammed large amounts of material into textbooks in an attempt to meet different state standards. In addition, the diversity of standards greatly complicated the effort to produce high-quality assessments that can help guide instruction. Alberts cited as an example a seventh grade textbook that devotes the following two sentences to describe the endoplasmic reticulum. “Running through the cell is a network of flat channels called the endoplasmic reticulum. This organelle manufactures, stores, and transports materials.” At the end of the chapter, a self-test asks that students “write a sentence that uses the term ‘endoplasmic reticulum’ correctly.” “It’s an absolute tragedy,” said Alberts. “We’re telling kids that education is a joke,” a problem exacerbated by the much more engaging electronic media available to students. It is much easier to test students for their familiarity with scientific words than for scientific understanding and abilities. “Bad tests are forcing a trivialization of science and will
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation drive most students, including many potential scientists, away from science,” Alberts said. “Any rational person would be totally turned off from school if this is what school is about. It doesn’t mean anything.” It’s an absolute tragedy. We’re telling kids that education is a joke. —Bruce Alberts The National Research Council’s report Taking Science to School, a comprehensive analysis of how students in grades K-8 can best learn science, concluded that effective science education needs to combine four strands of learning (National Research Council, 2007a). They are as follows: Know, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world. Generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations. Understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge. Participate productively in scientific practices and discourse. Each of these four strands of inquiry was judged by the committee that wrote the report to be of equal importance, Alberts observed. Furthermore, strands 2, 3, and 4 can be taught only through the use of inquiry. These strands correspond closely with the workforce skills needed by business and industry. According to the book Thinking for a Living by Ray Marshall and Marc Tucker (1992), the skills that employers need from high school graduates are a high capacity for abstract conceptual thinking, the ability to apply that capacity for abstract thought to complex, real-world problems, and the capacity to function effectively in an environment in which communication skills are vital in work groups. Inquiry-based science instruction “perfectly meets this challenge,” Alberts said. He quoted Robert Galvin, the former chief executive officer of Motorola: “While most descriptions of necessary skills for children do not list ‘learning to learn,’ this should be the capstone skill upon which all others depend.” Memorized facts, which are the basis for most testing done in schools today, are of little use in an age in which information is doubling every two or three years. Computers and the Internet can provide information when it is needed. The workforce needs to know how to use information to develop solutions to problems. Yet most science education is a far cry from the kind called for in Taking Science to School. Here is Alberts’s interpretation of the science education that takes place in most U.S. classrooms:
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation Know, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world. Generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations. Understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge. Participate productively in scientific practices and discourse. “We are not doing science education according to the people who actually understand what science education should be,” said Alberts. “And it’s no wonder that parents don’t think much of science education, because what we’re doing has defined science education for them, and they don’t think it’s important. And they’re probably right.” Other nations are ahead of the United States in fashioning an effective science education system. The PISA assessment of students’ scientific knowledge and skills, for example, is rooted in the concept of scientific literacy, which it defines as the extent to which an individual: Possesses scientific knowledge and uses that knowledge to identify questions, acquire new knowledge, explain scientific phenomena, and draw evidence-based conclusions about science-related issues. Understands the characteristic features of science as a form of human knowledge and inquiry. Shows awareness of how science and technology shape the material, intellectual, and cultural environments. Engages in science-related issues and with the ideas of science, as a reflective citizen. The United States has an opportunity to move toward this vision of science education, said Alberts, “because there’s a widespread recognition that the current chaotic system does not work.” For example, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers8 had a meeting in Chicago in April 2009, at which they decided to push for common standards in mathematics and English language arts, with science to follow. The standards would be aligned with college- and career-ready expectations and made available for states to adopt voluntarily. “Many other promising signs of change are evident,” Alberts said. Foundations are putting money into education. A major redesign of Advanced Placement courses in biology, chemistry, and physics is under way. President Barack Obama and his science adviser, John Holdren, have signaled their intention to devote considerable attention to science education. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the members of which were announced a few days before the convocation, is establishing a subcommittee on science education. 8 For additional information, see http://ccsso.org.
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation Alberts also has instituted a major reform at Science to raise the visibility of science education at all grade levels. An Education Forum begun by the previous editor is being featured in the journal through special issues, research and news articles, and an editor devoted to education research. “We need to collect this [information] in one place and make it much more visible,” he said. THE PROMISE MOVING FORWARD Other speakers at the convocation described many ways in which education in California can be strengthened. For example, Dorph described a recent study with which she was involved of science-rich education institutions in the Bay Area, many of which serve schools directly. The study found that 35 percent of Bay Area K-5 public school students are reached through field trips or onsite classes, and about 20 percent are reached through outreach to their schools. These are estimates, said Dorph, “but they help us get an idea of who’s being reached and who not.” Science-rich education institutions also provide informal and out-of-school learning opportunities for some students who have little or no science in schools. “This is where science comes to life for them, and it’s critical to continue to provide these opportunities while we’re working on what’s going on in schools.” The earlier study of Bay Area elementary schools also found that the majority of elementary schools receive support for science education from an external partner, including informal learning institutions, colleges and universities, local businesses, and community-based organizations. Teachers rate the quality of the professional development they receive from these external sources higher that those in the public school system. “Teachers also indicated a desire for additional professional development from these organizations,” said Dorph, and four in five of their professional development programs have the potential to scale up. Funding for scale-up could support additional staff, teacher stipends, release days, and substitute teachers. Many California elementary and middle school teachers also can take advantage of materials that could be used to improve science education. For example, about half of the state’s elementary students are in classrooms that have access to inquiry-based materials, such as those from the Full Option Science System (FOSS) developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science.9 “That doesn’t mean that the teacher opened the box,” said 9 Additional information about FOSS kits is available at http://www.fossweb.com/. Information about the Lawrence Hall of Science is available at http://www.lawrencehallofscience.org.
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation DiRanna. But across the rest of the United States, only about 20 percent of districts use reform-based materials. California has a tremendous opportunity to use such materials in a much larger fraction of its classrooms. Finally, the introduction of new fifth grade assessments in science presents opportunities to build science education support systems.10 Many districts are planning to increase the amount of time spent on science. Specific strategies mentioned by convocation participants are to increase the classroom time spent on science, select new materials, integrate science with mathematics or language arts, provide more opportunities for professional development in science, seek new funding sources to support science education, and leverage the expertise of passionate science teachers. Susan Pritchard, a middle school science teacher with the La Habra City School District and the current president of the California Science Teachers Association,11 observed that bringing together the people represented at the convocation was an important step. “We have in this room a lot of people with a lot of moxie.” When multiple stakeholders speak with a unified voice, positive change can result. She cited as an example a recent legislative initiative to limit the amount of hands-on activity in science classes to less than 25 percent of instructional time. With support from many colleagues, the California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) was able to change the requirement to no less than 25 percent. “That’s huge, [but] it takes everybody to work on it.” Currently the CSTA is calling on the state legislature to revise the state science standards adopted in 1998. Bills that would have required review and revision of the standards were passed by the California legislature in 2005 and 2006 but were vetoed by the governor. Getting such a bill enacted will require that everyone “get on the bandwagon,” said Pritchard. Together these factors provide considerable grounds for optimism that science education in California could be on the verge of turning a corner. The challenge is to use the problems to motivate reform. “We are here today to turn ideas into action,” said Dorrance, in summarizing the goals of the convocation. The United States of America is still the best country in the world. We are a nation of leaders, and we have always had the competitive edge. But times are changing, and we need to be prepared to keep that edge. We need to take our science education system to the next level, to the level that will help us to be responsive to our future needs. I believe that we, 10 For additional information on the California state testing and reporting program, see http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/articles/Article.asp?title=Understanding%20the%20STAR. 11 For additional information, see http://www.cascience.org/csta/csta.asp.
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Nurturing and Sustaining Effective Programs in Science Education for Grades K-8: Building a Village in California - Summary of a Convocation this village, has an extraordinary opportunity to change students’ lives. An opportunity to improve our country. Will it be easy? Of course not. Will we have to overcome obstacles? Absolutely. But united this village can change the course that we are on and figure out how to overcome these obstacles and sustain quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs, our future. After all, we all want the same things: teachers and students, this nation’s future, with the knowledge and skills to compete in this ever-changing world. We are here today to turn ideas into action…. We need to take our science education system to the next level, to the level that will help us to be responsive to our future needs. —Jacqueline Dorrance