- The Public Policy Institute of California surveyed 204 school districts in the state, finding that many districts were having trouble implementing the Next Generation Science Standards because of lack of understanding of the new standards, a shortage of certified science teachers, lack of adequate labs and materials, and state graduation standards that don’t match the standards, Ed Source reports.
- The new standards, which were adopted by 19 states including California, focus on “hands-on science projects and large scientific concepts that cross multiple disciplines,” which are difficult to incorporate without the adequate materials to do so.
- Current California state law also does not match the goals of the standards in terms of required science testing at the elementary level and a graduation requirement of only two years of high school science, rather than the three years of high school science called for in the new standards.
The struggles that California is facing in implementing the new NGSS is another indication of the difficulties school districts often face when initiatives are mandated from the top down without the money or legislative backing to accomplish them. The new California standards, which were adopted in 2013, emphasize “three-dimensional learning: disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science and engineering practices.” These are noble concepts and valuable educational practices, but they require trained teachers and adequate supplies to support. Considering the fact that 43 states now face shortages of certified science teachers and that 60% of California school districts don’t have enough science teachers, this goal is difficult to attain.
Materials to use in teaching are another challenge. As of last spring, 59% of California school districts reported that adequate instructional materials were a challenge to procure. Another issue is the quantity and adequacy of science labs and the availability of science equipment within the school district. Teachers, many of whom already spend hundreds of dollars each year on school supplies, cannot be expected to pick up the tab on their own.
School districts need to lobby their state legislatures for the funds to help update these labs. However, there are other sources of funding to explore, as well. Grants are available, including the National Science Teachers Association Shell Science Lab grant designed to upgrade school labs. Local industry may also be willing to contribute to this cause, as they have a vested interest in helping to produce the next generation of employees. Additionally, local colleges and healthcare facilities may have access to equipment they're willing to donate, and parent-teacher groups may be willing to hold fundraisers for new lab equipment.