Monday, February 24, 2014

Do we have a serious problem with Earth Science in California?

A Note from Wendy Van Norden, the far west section director of NESTA...

Dear Earth Science Educator,

Is there a crisis in California Earth Science?

I received an email from a teacher about the Earth Science crisis that she was seeing in her school district. (see letter below)
That prompted me to wonder, is there a state-wide problem, and what, if anything, can we do about it? 

First, let us compile some data.  I have written a survey, could you please take it? 

Please forward this survey to other Earth Science High School and Middle School  teachers in California so that we can gather as much data as possible. 

When I have compiled the results of the survey,  I will get back to you, and we will discuss how we may best address any concerns that we find. 

Wendy Van Norden
NESTA  Far West Director
Harvard-Westlake School
Studio City, CA 91604
818 487-6665

Letter from an earth science teacher

I attended a training yesterday given by our school district administration. During the training, we talked about the fact that the formula used to allot funds from the state to individual school districts will be changing. One of the criteria for receiving funds will be the number of high school students in the district that are enrolled in what are called "a-g" classes. Basically, these are the classes that CA universities look at when admitting students to the system.

To put it simply, earth science is not considered an "a-g" course. Only biology, physics, and chemistry are what they consider "d" lab-science courses. We tried to get our earth science classes as a "g" requirement (elective) but the university board denied it because they insisted on an algebra prerequisite. We could try to get a "d" geology course but it wouldn't cover all the NGSS standards.

Most of the students in our earth sciences are our lower-academic kids who have not mastered algebra (they are freshmen). What our district is probably going to do is filter as many kids into biology as freshmen and put the really low kids in earth science. I foresee earth science in the future being integrated into the other sciences as districts struggle to grab as much state money as they can.

It's a dilemma since districts will not receive funds for students who earn a "D" or "F" in a subject. I have a feeling that our district will probably come up with an introductory physical science class that will integrate most of the NGSS earth science standards and try to get a "d' designation.

The California Dept. of Education has said that they would like to see integrated science classes at the high school level. They have already made middle school science integrated.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Am I wrong in my assumptions? I came out of the training feeling really depressed.


  1. Did this get posted on the NAGT Far Western FB page? Seems like it would be good to get as much exposure as possible.
    -Cindy Pridmore

  2. Same thing is happening in our district. All of the Earth Science is being dumped. All the 9th graders will take Bio, the 10th graders will take Chem (whether their math is solid or not). The science teachers at our school are NOT happy. Well, neither is the Earht Science teacher that we have - he's going to be 're-assigned'.

  3. I'm there with you! Our school went with the "everyone at grade level in math goes straight into biology in 9th grade". That killed our earth science program! It's now the catch all for lower level. I had to kill my upper level advanced geology class because the UCOP just wouldn't accept it as a lab science. Enrollment suffered, as a result. My school had me write the AP Environmental Science curriculum instead.

    Last year I found out our earth science course for 9th graders wasn't even college prep. I spent HOURS rewriting the curriculum for the UCOP. Yep--didn't pass. Totally lame! As a result, we still are teaching earth science to the lower levels but it's called general science because that was grandfathered in with the UCOP as college prep "g" requirement.

    Looking at the NGSS standards, we're screwed again! It's looking like our earth science course will now be more of an environmental type class.