Science education in jeopardy

If famed astrophysicist Carl Sagan was still around today, I can imagine him pulling his signature turtleneck sweater over his eyes in horror and proclaiming, “No, nooo!”

A new 2012-2013 budget from Gov. Jerry Brown proposes that California high schools cut in half the current two-year science requirement needed for students to graduate. The thinking behind this, said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance, is that local schools will have more power in how they choose to spend their money.

“This is being put forward as a part of a broader proposal to provide school districts with greater flexibility and greater local control,” Palmer told the Press Democrat. It gives “greater empowerment to local school districts to make local decisions.”

Sounds all well and good, but many California educators fear that districts already struggling with shrinking funds will see this as an opportunity to direct funding to other priorities, such as bus service or language arts and math classes, which schools are tested on under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The whole idea becomes extra scary when you learn that only 21 percent of U.S. 12th graders in 2009 scored “proficient” or above on a national assessment pertaining to questions on life, Earth, space and physical sciences. Yikes.

“To me, it’s absolutely astounding that the state of California, our leadership, would actually believe it would be appropriate not to have more science and actually have less science,” said Santa Rosa School Board member Frank Pugh. “I hope the public really understands — they are dismantling, day-by-day, public education.”

Those who will most likely  feel the ramifications of this will be children of poverty, low means or those struggling in school, said Phil Lafontaine, director of professional development and curriculum support division at the state Department of Education. “How are they going to be competitive with children who are getting two, three, even four years [of science education]?”