High hopes – few opportunities: The status of elementary science education in California

by Ardice Hartry; John McDonald; Juliet Tiffany-Morales; Linda Bond; Margaret Gaston; Patrick M. Shields; Patsy Wilkes; Rena Dorph; Teresa McCaffrey

Jan 1, 2011

This report, produced by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, Lawrence Hall of Science at University of California, Berkeley, and SRI International, addresses how well California is doing to prepare its young people for the evolving economy and societal challenges. Specifically, it describes the status of science teaching and learning in California public elementary schools.

Among the findings:

- Forty percent of elementary teachers say they spend 60 minutes or less teaching science each week

- Only one third of elementary teachers say they feel prepared to teach science

- Eighty-five percent of teachers say they have not received any professional development in science during the last three years

- 9 in 10 principals say science education is very important and should start early

- Less than half of principals (44%) believe it is likely that a student would receive high-quality science instruction in his or her school

The reasons underlying the lack of high-quality learning opportunities in the state's elementary schools are many. For example:

- Teachers do not feel prepared to teach science -- especially in comparison to their preparation to teach English language arts and mathematics.

- Districts and schools do not have the resources (staff, time, or funds) to provide the needed professional development.

- High-quality science teaching requires specialized materials, which teachers also say they lack, and districts and schools are strapped to provide these resources.

These shortcomings are rooted in part in the state and federal accountability systems that place the greatest emphasis on English language arts and mathematics, which receive the lion's share of political and practical attention. The end result? California does not have a coherent system that enables teachers and schools to consistently provide students with high-quality science learning.