California May Lower Science Requirements

When it comes to high school class requirements, the rule of thumb is this: You have to do what the state requires… but if you’re interested in the subject, you should do more.

In Illinois (PDF), for example, you have to take at least three years of math (including Algebra I and Geometry). But if you’re planning to major in engineering or business or anything that might require math, you want to take more than just three math classes. Colleges want to see that. In a lot of cases, the state’s requirements don’t matter because individual districts have their own requirements in place that go beyond what the state says.

But what if you hate math and don’t want to go into a “math-related field”? That’s when the requirements are even more important. The state is essentially saying, “You need to have at least this much knowledge in the subject before we let you opt out of it forever.”

That’s why it’s disappointing to see that California’s Governor Jerry Brown wants to drop the high school graduation requirement for Science from two years to one:

A little-noticed proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown to eliminate the second year of science as a high school graduation requirement is sparking concern among educators who fear it could deepen the academic divide among students and further erode the state’s scientific and technological leadership.

The recommendation in Brown’s revised May budget is aimed at freeing the state from reimbursing local school districts for the $250-million annual cost of the second-year science course. The state has not made any payouts to school districts since the requirement was ruled a mandate in 2005, so California owes public school systems $2.5 billion in unpaid claims.

Jessica Sawko of the California Science Teachers Assn. said financially struggling school districts could be the first to cut back science courses, potentially depriving less affluent students of equal access to higher education choices.

It may be a fiscal decision, and it may be a moot point for the better schools in the state, but it’s symbolic of how little Gov. Brown values science. He’s sending a signal to the schoolchildren in the state that if they hate science, all they need to do is take one course and that’s good enough for California.

In a country where 46% of people are Creationists, we need more scientific literacy, not less. Those requirements should be increasing, not decreasing.

Again, this won’t affect students in most districts since they’ll have more requirements than the state demands. It won’t affect students who want to pursue a career in science because they’ll already be taking several science courses to get into better colleges. But the students who think science is useless? The students who probably won’t pursue a career that’s science-driven? They’re the ones who need to be taking more than just one basic science course. They’re the ones who need to learn some basic biology and chemistry. Gov. Brown is handing them a “Get Out of Science Free” card.

Somewhere, conservative Christian groups in California are celebrating.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Miko

    As high school students only take so many classes in total, requiring them to take more science classes means that they are forced to take fewer classes on other subjects that may interest them more and be more important to their goals in both career and life.  Seeing as forcing them to take science classes hasn’t even succeeding in correcting a basic error like belief in Creationism, one has to wonder whether forcing all students to take more science classes at the expense of preventing them from taking other classes more relevant to them is really a good policy.

    • raytheist

      I see your point Miko, but I have to disagree. All high school students need more math, history, English, foreign language, and science, as a core curriculum before any electives, especially for freshmen and sophomores — 5 required fields, and 2 electives per semester would be fitting.  We, as a nation, continue to fall behind the rest of the world in virtually all basic knowledge areas, including science, so becoming even more lax is virtual economic suicide for the country and our kids will be even less equipped to compete in the world market.   

    • MV

       That’s poor logic.  Let’s rewrite your statement:

      Seeing as forcing them to take English classes hasn’t even succeeded in correcting grammar and conventions in writing, one has to wonder whether forcing all students to take more English classes at the expense of preventing them from taking other classes more relevant to them is really a good policy.

      Or:

      Seeing as forcing them to take math classes hasn’t even succeeded in correcting basic errors in simple computation, one has to wonder
      whether forcing all students to take more math classes at the expense
      of preventing them from taking other classes more relevant to
      them is really a good policy.

      Replace science with any subject and you can make the same case.  The basic requirements of states don’t interfere with student electives.  If the state can’t fund two years of science, what makes you think there will be funding for other classes more relevant to students? 

    • Glasofruix

      So if a kid’s dream is to make wooden sculptures why should he bother learning how to read?

      • http://digitalatheist1.wordpress.com/ DigitalAtheist

        because said kid may want to carve something that only has written instructions later on. Illiteracy is one of the worst handicaps a fully functioning human can have.

        • Glasofruix

          Maybe it was a poor choice for an example, but i’m a partisan of “the more the better” because you’ll never know when something you’ve learnt might come in handy (and i’m the guy who still wonders if he’ll ever use those nasty equasions with polar coordinates).

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      I graduated high school in 2010 in Illinois. My school required three years of math, three years of science, four years of gym, four years of English, and two years of a foreign language. Even with all of those requirements, which are much more than most high schools, I still managed to take choir for four years, two years of art classes, and one extra year of science.
      I’m extremely grateful for the high requirements. I’m going into art, but I’m very glad that I’m also intelligent in other areas.

  • Tinker

    I was only required to take one science class and I now wish that I had to take more. When I finally went back to college, I found that I loved the chemistry class I took as a requirement for a non-science (mostly) degree, but if I had that low-level chemistry class in high school maybe I would have gone on to a career in science instead. 

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    This illustrates why I have admiration for people like Hemant. They’re willing to tackle this issue while at the same time gently prodding theists to start thinking for themselves. Maybe it’s because I’m a lesser sort of human being, but I have very little patience for those who are willfully ignorant and absolutely zero patience for those who claim to be their leaders.

    So when crap like this takes place and rational thinking is put on a lower shelf than stories about dickish cloud gods, my fears of a coming theocracy become pronounced. And at that point I find the idea of waterboarding the religion out of the willfully ignorant appealing. At the same time I recognize that it’s wrong, but I still want to kick people like Barton and Fischer in the nuts with a backhoe.

  • http://digitalatheist1.wordpress.com/ DigitalAtheist

    Sadly, Science, Math, and Reading should be a minimum of 12 years+K.

  • Student

    This is good. Schools teach students to hate the subjects they are taught. Maybe now people will start enjoying science.

    • Student

      if it wasn’t obvious – this is a semi-serious troll. we shouldn’t be working on getting more science classes, we should be working on fixing the school system. if it worked students would voluntarily take the interesting and informative classes offered instead of being forced to sit through boring wastes of time. 

      • Teacher

         Maybe you should put away your iPhone and try paying attention…you might find it more interesting.  Despite trying to entertain students today through gimmicks such as SmartBoards and engaging, hands-on lessons, the attention span of our students is at an all time low.

  • cosmopolite

    The problem is that school districts cannot offer higher pay to teachers willing to teach math and science, subjects that most teachers are unable and unwiling to teach. Abolishing the second year of science will make life a lot easier in many rural and working class high schools, the sort of high schools where the better teachers do not apply for jobs. I have no problem with paying chemistry teachers 70K, math and biology teachers 60K, English and social studies teachers 50K, and gym teachers 40K. But try telling that to the NEA. I am a baby boomer, and in my day, a large majority of high schools did not offer physics and economics because no one was willing to teach them. I would not be surprised if the problems is even worse now.

  • cosmopolite

    It is most definitely the case that the proportion of high school students who are exposed to the basics of the scientific method needs to rise. The problem is that most high school teachers are incapable of reasoning scientifically. Mandating a second year of science is not likely to change this situation. I suspect there are very few high school texts that teach students how to reason, and to distinguish fact from opinion. I also believe that the best way to learn to think critically is not so much by learning raw science but by studying the evolution of scientific ideas from Galileo onwards. I think that bright kids at good suburban schools could definitely profit from such an approach. I doubt the run of the mill slum kid would.

  • MichaelD

    Personally I don’t know that this is necessarily bad or good. It far more comes down to whats being taught and how. 

  • Fsq

    Governor Brown has been doiung a pretty good job at trying to reign in the economic typhoon that is our California State Budget, but this is a fail.

    If anything, science classes should be increased. The financial argument is a bad one at best; the less exposure to science means Californian kids are even fruther behind the curve on the international scale, making science based jobs – research, R&D, etc… – out of reach for these kids when they get out of school.

    This is just bad, from all angles.

    Come on America (and Governor Brown, I am looking at you and am one of your constituents), let’s start reaching a bit higher and raise the bar, don’t lower it.

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ northierthanthou

    I don’t think the dimming of America has much to do with what’s happening in the schools. It is a growing culture that celebrates ignorance, and I think it’s roots are economic. Simply put, the big corporations don’t need smart people here in America anymore. Hell, they really aren’t sure they need us at all, because the factory is heading to Bangladesh. Now if we could just convince the people that it’s because of those smarty-pants liberals… and a general disapproval of learning is the collateral damage.

  • cipher

    The state has not made any payouts to school districts since the
    requirement was ruled a mandate in 2005, so California owes public
    school systems $2.5 billion in unpaid claims.

    You mean Shwarzenegger didn’t take care of that when he balanced the budget? Must have been an oversight.

  • http://twitter.com/Buffy2q Buffy

    The dumbing-down continues.  Shameful.  

  • Miss_Beara

    He not only doesn’t value science, he doesn’t value education. That is a shame. This country sure loves its ignorance. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001627228091 Alexander Ryan

    Out here it’s Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and then a year-long science elective. I’d say Florida FTW, but nothing good comes out of this place.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Rhoades/100000175617377 Scott Rhoades

    If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times. What we need to get this country back on track is dumber kids. 

  • Lisa

    This is really, really disappointing. I have three children in elementary school in California, and I can tell you as a mother and a wife of a junior high math teacher AND an aspiring teacher myself that the sciences are downplayed at best in elementary and junior high as well in favor of math and reading. To then say that it’s not even important in high school is frightening. This is how the theists win–there’s no reason to cut down in any subject, I feel, but this is terribly important. The sciences not only teach us how to discover truth, but they bring together all of the other subjects (er, both of them) that we pretend to hold so close to our hearts. It’s applied math and applied reading. 

    But I’m preaching to the choir here.

    This is sad, Governor Brown. To say the least.

    • Fsq

      How odd. You are the mother of a Junior High Math Teacher and you are married to one as well?

      THAT is one wild and whacky household…..

      :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/nick.hammes Nick Hammes

        Doogie Howser, or the Oxford Comma: you be the judge.

  • Silentbob

    Re the photo, I was wondering why only the girls are wearing rubber gloves. Is that because they have cooties, or so that when the experiment is finished they can do the washing up?
    ;-)

  • kev_s

    Probably should be wearing safety glasses too.

    Loved the comment by Scott Rhoades:
    “What we need to get this country back on track is dumber kids.”

  • Donalbain

    So, for all but two years, they currently dont have to learn any science? Wow. In the UK, science is a compulsory part of the education curriculum every single year from the age of 4 to the age of 16.

  • http://profiles.google.com/julielada Julie Lada

    Explaining to clients concepts like vaccination and immunity, and why it’s important that they give their pet the FULL round of antibiotics to prevent resistance, or why it’s important that we test for heartworm every year even though they swear they’ve had their pet on the preventative medication because the parasite is developing resistance to the drugs, is already difficult enough. I’m trying to picture explaining such things to an owner with even less of an understanding of core scientific concepts and I want to tear my hair out in frustration already.

  • Salty

    Well fuck it.  Let’s just all vote on what we want to be factual.   Truthiness for the win!    Perhaps Americans really are too dumb for democracy to work.

    • Fsq

      Have you watched “Idiocracy”?

      Funny movie, but also so damn true it is chilling.

      • Salty

        yes, I did not find Idiocracy funny, because it is a reasonable prediction of our future.  Sigh.

  • Sindigo

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