Last month, a news article said that Governor Schwartzenneger planned to drop the high school graduation requirements in California from two science courses to one. He was responding to the current huge budget deficit in the state.
At at time when we must have more college graduates and more people trained in science and engineering, this response is exactly backward. Many other states have set the number of science courses required for high school graduation to three!
Why choose science? How will reducing science graduation requirements save money while reducing English or math will not?
Two factors seem to be operating here, and it's not possible to tell from the news which is primary in the Governor's decision. Science courses, unlike the other core courses, have an extra cost component in their laboratory work. The cost of supplies and equipment, even after severe cuts, remains at around $7 per pupil. Further expenses come from hazardous waste disposal, insurance costs, laboratory space maintenance, and teacher time lost to lab preparation and clean up.
The other potential cost comes from teacher certification. Certified science teachers have become rare, especially in physical sciences. Many schools have to pay more to get certified science teachers; other schools must provide waivers to allow uncertified teachers to run these classes.
The truly unfortunate part of the Governor's plan is that alternatives exist that save money and improve science education at the same time.
Just imagine that half of the expensive, dangerous, and ineffective hands-on lab experiences in a high school science course were replaced with low-cost, save, and highly effective laboratory experiences. Imagine that the cost is just a few dollars per student. With online preliminary (formative) and subsequent (summative) assessments added, administrators and teachers would be able to track student performance and provide accountability.
You don't have to imagine all of these ideas. They exist today in the Smart Science® education system; see www.smartscience.net.
The Smart Science® system is the only one to meet the definition and all goals of America's Lab Report. Curricula using this system as the primary lab experience have passed the College Board's AP audit for all three AP laboratory sciences. Yes, full approval, even today.
It's a shame that the Governor and his advisers don't consider alternatives before floating such draconian proposals. Write to him today!
© 2009 by Paracomp, Inc., U.S.A. www.smartscience.netFollow this author on ETC Journal.