Californians Say Science Education Should be a Priority for Schools


Posted on 15 September 2010

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By Margaret Gaston
Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning

Californians believe that science education should be a priority for the state’s schools and want it to be taught early and more often, according to new public opinion research released today by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning and its partners in the Strengthening Science Education in California Initiative. To strengthen science education, the public wants schools to have the labs and equipment they need, strongly supports providing teachers with specialized training and wants schools to spend more time teaching science. 

“This new research clearly shows the state’s residents place a high value on science education, ranking the subject right up with reading, writing and mathematics in terms of priorities for schools,” said Nancy Belden, the lead researcher for the report. “In their view, knowledge and understanding of science are essential to keeping California and America at the forefront of technology and innovation, and essential to young people as they prepare for the future.” 

The report, A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students, is based on a telephone survey of 1004 adults in California, including cell phone and Spanish language interviews.* The authors believe the report to be the first published public opinion research specific to science education in California. Key among the reports findings:

  • Californians believe that science education is key to the future of the state.  Three quarters say science should be a higher priority for California schools because it keeps both America and California at the forefront of technology and innovation.  Another seven in ten each say that science should be a higher priority for California schools because it helps young people compete in the global marketplace and become engaged citizens;
  • Science education should be a priority for California’s schools. Nearly nine out of ten surveyed say it is very important or essential for California public schools to give all students a strong background in science;  
  • Science education should start early. Seven in ten say that learning science should begin in elementary school in order for students to succeed in high school; and
  • Science should be taught to all students. Two-thirds of Californians say all high school students should be required to study biology, chemistry and physics.

The report also examines the public’s ideas for strengthening science education.

“Californians believe more time should be devoted to teaching science and want teachers to have the specialized training, support and resources they need to teach science well,” says Rena Dorph, Director of the Center for Research Evaluation and Assessment at the University of California, Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science. “There is also strong public support for providing schools with the labs and equipment they need to fully engage students in a strong science program.”
 
Key findings of Californians’ views on what should be done to strengthen science education include:

  • More than eight out of ten Californians surveyed say that middle and high school science teachers should have extra preparation and special training. More than half say that elementary teachers also should have more preparation and training;
  • Seven in ten think that more resources and better equipment would make a big difference in science education; and
  • Roughly six in ten say more time spent on science would be effective at the high school (63% big difference) and middle school (57%) grades.   Nearly half (45%) say more time on science education would make a big difference in the lower grades.

The data also indicate that groups that have been historically underrepresented are more likely to perceive that science education in their schools may be lacking and express stronger support for efforts to strengthen science education. Latino parents (63%) are more likely than other groups to say that their children do not spend enough time learning science in school.

African Americans (85%), Latinos (79%) and those earning $25,000-$50,000 annually (77%) are most likely to say that more resources and better equipment would make a big difference in science education. Latinos (67%), African Americans (66%) and low-income earners (62% of those with incomes under $25,000) are also among those most likely to say elementary teachers should have special training.

Californians understand the importance of science education and want it to be a priority for the state’s schools. We hope the state’s policymakers and educators will consider the public’s interests as decisions are made that impact science education in California’s schools and classrooms.

A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students was conducted as a part of Strengthening Science Education in California, a new initiative that brings together educators, researchers, and others to examine the status of science teaching and learning, and to develop recommendations for improving science education throughout the state.

Partners in this initiative include the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, the University of California, Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, SRI International, Belden Russonello&Stewart, Stone’s Throw Communications and Inverness Research Associates.  Funding for the initiative, including the public opinion research, was provided by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. The full research report and summary materials, including cross tabulations of the data are available at www.cftl.org.

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Margaret Gaston is the President and Executive Director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.