California Governor Jerry Brown is proposing to cut the state’s already minimal high school graduation requirement for science in half. Currently California students must complete two courses – one in the biological sciences and another in the physical sciences – to graduate. Brown has released a budget that replaces this with just one class. That means California high-schoolers could graduate having taken only an earth science class and have no knowledge of the basics of biology, chemistry, or physics and zero exposure to laboratory practice.
Brown’s pitiful proposal is not worthy of the Silicon Valley state, or any state for that matter. Most states require at least 2 years of science as a minimum graduation requirement. However, many states, such as Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Virginia (whose 4th and 8th graders performed above the national average on the 2009 NAEP science exam) require at least 3 years of science for graduation. In contrast, California’s fourth graders tied Mississippi’s for the lowest scores on the 2009 NAEP exam. Based on this evidence, the logical response would be to increase California’s science requirement, not reduce it.
In fact, Common Core conducted an analysis of the NAEP science data in 2009 and found that the number of courses students took appeared to have a significant impact on their performance. Here’s the key data from that analysis:
Students who took both biology and chemistry scored 15 points higher than those who just took biology or any other single science course, and those who took physics in addition to biology and chemistry scored 33 points higher than single science course-takers. A quick analysis shows that this amounts, approximately, to an 11% improvement for each additional science course taken. So students who took three science courses scored 22% higher than those who took just one.
Governor Brown is establishing a track record for lowering expectations for California public school students. Just last year the Governor put the arts and foreign languages on the chopping block. In October, Brown signed a bill into law that eliminates the requirement for all students to take either a foreign language or arts course to graduate. Students can now take career-technical education courses instead. At the behest of Common Core and California-based arts and foreign language advocates, former Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill containing this same proposal in 2010.
Brown’s curriculum proposal would guarantee that thousands of students graduate high school unqualified for admission to California’s public universities. CA’s state schools mandate that students take at least two years of a foreign language, and one year of art to qualify for admittance. The California State University system requires applicants to have two years of science, while the University of California system recommends three science courses and mandates laboratory experience. Thus, lowering the bar to only one year of science, while also eliminating any coursework in foreign language or the arts, puts California high school students at a terrible disadvantage. If this trajectory continues, we hate to think what subject could be next on Brown’s hit list.
Senate President Darrell Steinberg indicates he is in no hurry to validate the Governor’s budget plan: “We’re not going to rush to make any of these decisions, especially on the cuts side.” This delay is an opportunity for concerned parents, teachers, and students to voice their opposition. In fact, some districts, including Vacaville Unified School District and Travis Unifies School District, have taken an immediate stand and announced that they have no plans to reduce the 2-year science requirement. We hope Governor Brown heeds these warnings and retracts his proposal.
Lynne Munson, Emily Dodd, and Hillary Marder