Credit: Stephanie Polrick / Partnership for Children and Youth

Students taking a science class at the East Bay Asia Regional Development Corporation’s Lions Pride After School program.

Surviving a global pandemic while facing the effects of climate change underscores the need for scientific literacy. Moreover, solid and equitable science education is not only essential for a fully functioning democracy, but also for preparing the workforce of the future and paving the way for high-paying jobs. But science has long been a low priority at his K-12 school in California, and the Covid pandemic has disrupted efforts to ensure all students receive quality science education.

The United States lags behind other developed countries in science education, and California ranks last among states in the National Assessment of Educational Advancements in Science (NAEP). In her 2015 NAEP (latest state comparison available), California’s science test average score was well below the national average. Only 1 in her 4th graders and her 8th graders are fluent in English, a proportion that has not changed over the years. California also has the largest gap in science achievement by race/ethnicity and family income.

In 2013, the State Board of Education laid the groundwork for transforming science education by adopting the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). These standards have the potential to improve students’ conceptual understanding of science, promote science literacy, and enhance the international competitiveness of California’s workforce.

School districts were in the early stages of implementing new science standards when Covid-19 broke out, and every aspect of the educational environment suddenly changed. A recent California Public Policy Institute (PPIC) report shows that the disruption caused by the pandemic could affect science education in the years to come. In this report you will find:

By Spring 2020, progress was being made in implementing the California Scientific Standards, but progress was uneven.

More than 90% of school districts surveyed say they will implement new science standards during the 2019-20 school year, up from 78% in 2016-17. Implementation varied from year to year. The school district was more likely to implement new science standards in his K-8 than in high school. There is also geographic variation, with only 38% of rural districts enforcing the standard in high schools.

Covid-19 has derailed science education.

Science education became a lower priority for the majority of school districts (62%) in the 2020-21 school year. This delayed key implementation activities, such as aligning materials and course models with next-generation science standards.

Factors that have deprioritized science include the continued pre-pandemic focus on English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics, staff shortages, teacher burnout, and lack of dedicated funding for science education. .

Overall, school districts have provided limited support for science education during the pandemic. In the 2020-21 school year, 60% of school districts provided supplemental teaching materials, 43% provided summer science programs, and 40% engaged in social-emotional learning to support science education. Only a quarter of the school districts offered small group instruction, and very few offered extended science hours during the regular school year. Only 40% of school districts provided English learners with additional support in science classes.

One silver lining is that high-need school districts, such as districts with large English learner populations, continue to use science content to engage students in ELA and math. This has ensured the continuation of science education in these districts during the pandemic.

Most school districts do not plan to prioritize science education during recovery

Only a quarter of school districts (27%) say science education is a priority in their recovery plans, and 80% say they prioritize ELA and math. Additionally, a survey of the current Local Management Accountability Plans (LCAPs) of more than 800 districts found that less than half plan to adopt, develop or purchase new science materials in the next few years, and about a third plan to It turns out that 1 is planning. Provide science teacher training or set student performance goals on standardized tests.

Our research shows that science education in California is far from its original priority. And as schools continue to recover from the pandemic, educators and policy makers should be mindful of the need to invest in science literacy.

The 2022-23 state budget includes $85 million to support professional learning in math and science. This is an important step. States can also include science indicators in school district accountability requirements to encourage school districts to devote more resources to science education. In addition, states can support science education in recovery by providing guidance to teachers and districts on evidence-based strategies that produce stronger and more equitable student outcomes.

Moving forward, all education partners must work together to increase the urgency of policymakers and ensure the resources and support to enable California to realize its vision of science education and science literacy.


Beef Gao Senior Fellow at the California Institute of Public Policy. Cathy Dilana Statewide Director of the K-12 Alliance in WestEd.

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