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Report finds Calif. elementary school science classes lacking

As technology and science generate more jobs, a new study from several education think tanks and UC Berkeley suggests that students are not getting quality science instruction in the elementary grades.

Lead researcher Patrick Shields says high school graduates with a good science background developed it in elementary school.

"This study was really driven by a concern whether or not the state schools were producing students who are ready to enter the knowledge economy and the high tech economy that we have here in the state," says Shields.

Shields says the study examined whether public schools are preparing students for an expanding universe of science and technology-related jobs.

"Unfortunately what we found is that at most 10 percent of the elementary classrooms in the state are really providing students with these high-quality learning opportunities," he says. "Meaning opportunities to learn how to actually learn how to act like a scientist, to do investigations, to discover things, to ask research questions, to collect data, interpret the data and report it out."

Part of the blame, researchers say, rests on the pressure elementary school teachers feel to encourage high performance on math and English standardized tests – often at the expense of other subjects.

Training’s an issue too. One in five California school districts offers elementary teachers professional development in science. That’s not the case at Anderson Elementary in Garden Grove, says principal Lori Rogers. There, teachers get ”science in a box” kits for their lessons.

"Teachers actually leave the classroom," says Rogers, "to go and train with one another to do the experiments and they come back into the classroom."

Researcher Shields says improving science instruction in elementary schools can be as easy as overlapping lessons in multiple subjects.

"What that means is not a longer school day but rather, perhaps the need to integrate science and math and English language arts across the curriculum," he says. "So for example you could be reading books about science, writing essays about science..."

The report concludes that a new roadmap for science instruction will emerge if school districts and the state spend more on the subject, to help turn around the damage budget cuts inflicted in the last decade.