A little-known proposal from Governor Jerry Brown would eliminate the state’s mandate that all high school students get two years of science education. Sacramento says it’s in the name of fixing the budget. But many argue that subjects like science and math are only rising in importance, and nixing science is too high a price to pay.

We examine the state of science in California’s public schools.

Gov. Proposes Nixing High School Science Requirement 7 June,2012forum

Caleb Cheung, science manager for the Oakland Unified School District
H.D. Palmer, deputy director, external affairs for the California Department of Finance
Rick Pomeroy, professor in the UC Davis School of Education, president of the California Science Teachers Association and former science teacher for 20 years
Kerry Benefield, reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

  • Frank

    This anti-science proposal is symptomatic of the low quality of our society’s leadership. What matters to them is two things: Corporate power and the extension of that power through imperial conquests. These conquests are achieved most obviously through the military but much more commonly by imposing debts on nations. Corporate power and its projection are used to steal, either by stealing democracy and freedom from the citizenry, or stealing assets from de facto subject peoples. The USA’s elites fixate on theft because are the type of people who are incapable of doing real work, in contract to the scientists who built our industries. The rich are in short largely worthless shysters and it is therefore in their nature attack science or indeed anyone who does actual work.

    • Guest

      No, Frank, this is symptomatic of the population. We don’t have students who care or have parents who care. Our schools have deteriorated for 30 years and the people were warned. Now we are no longer completive on the World Stage as our educational status proves.
      Today, one must put their children in private schools, if they require them to go to a good University.  

      • Current Highschooler

        I don’t think thats true. You can’t blame this on the students, they need the prompting and opportunity, just like they did years ago. You can think back into your heyday all you like and feel like your generation was so motivated and ambitious but in reality, the students are the same if not better. (Not necessarily in international regards, but certainly compared to their predecessors). Its not uncommon now for high schoolers to have all sorts of science internships. In general, the modern high school is more rigorous than that of any generation prior.

  • Roy-in-Boise

    Has Jerry Brown lost it? Why not just eliminate all schools and throw us back into the stone age, that would certainly save money too … This is a time to quote Forest Gump’s immortal words “Stupid is what stupid does.”

  • guest

    Jerry, have you lost your mind? Hand’s off schools! Tax the rich biotecs, and silicon valley buisnesses, like google, facebook etc.
    How dare you try to take science out of the schools.
    POTUS wants all kids to get a education.
    As stated below aniti-science bs is coming from LIV who think taxes are not good. I guess they like dumb kids no FD or PD no library.
    Keep the kids dumb and stupid.

  • It sounds like a terrible idea, but we must remember that the  CAHSEE (CA high school exit exam) only tests students on reading, writing, and mathematics. If the state wanted our high school students to be proficient in science, they would include it on the CAHSEE. 

    It’s also not on the SATs. I actually chose to take the SATs instead of the ACTs because the ACT includes a science portion. And I took three years of science in high school.

    The only test it is required for is the CA standardized tests (STAR tests). But those tests do not affect the student, they only affect standing and funding for the schools.My sister is a freshman in high school right now, taking a freshman biology course. She is learning absolutely nothing from her teacher, but she will finish the class with an A. No one will ever find out that she didn’t learn biology. She will apply to colleges with an A in biology and with no required tests to prove it.

    It is also important to note that most colleges require at very least 2 years of science for admittance. So students that want to go to college will still be taking at least 2 years of science (and from my experience, most who want to go to college take 3 or 4 years). 

    As long as these science programs are still required to be offered at high schools, I’m not so sure that removing the mandatory 2 years of science for students will affect much.

    • guest

       Misha, someone should report that science teacher that your sis has. He’s being paid good money to teach science.  That’s part of the prob.
      Bad teachers so people think science is not needed. Very Sad.

    • Chris

      Misha, I agree that the tests are inadequate regarding science, however the student owns their own education. Thus one should pursue her interests within the context of her school. If the school does not offer the needed courses, then the student is left behind.

  • Gerald Fnord

    Really understanding the scientific method is one of the well-springs of good citizenship; without it any citizen were the natural prey of hucksters, politicians, preachers, bosses, and anyone else who uses emotional manipulation or the threat of force or tradition to “prove” something, on the order of ‘”Shut up,” he explained.’

    The critical thinking that should be absorbed with science education is the enemy of all arbitrary authority.

    • Chemist150

      Now the Democrats want to remove the course that enable our young people to use logical thought processes to assess any situation?  What are they up to?  I’m with Gerald on this one.

      • Gerald Fnord

        Yeah, it’s awful on Brown’s part…then again, given his record on Prop. 13: 
        Mr Brown, meanwhile, performed a stunning U-turn. Having campaigned against Proposition 13, he suddenly decided to implement it zealously. Jarvis was so pleased that he endorsed Mr Brown, who was re-elected five months after Proposition 13 passed. The governor’s new nickname was “Jerry Jarvis”. (from I’m not the least bit surprised.  I’ve always taken his “Moonbeam” reputation as cover for his shark-like reality.

    • David

      You’re equating the scientific method with critical thinking.  I would suggest that to understand philosophy–in particular, logic–is more important in connection with seeing through “hucksters, politicians, preachers, bosses, and anyone else who uses emotional manipulation.” Do you bemoan the lack of high school instruction in logic, or any other branch of philosophy?  Science isn’t taught to encourage critical thinking.  It’s taught to produce a technological workforce.

      • Science is taught so that people have the capacity to understand their own biological systems, how our world and the ecosystem works, and our place in it. Biology is the study of life itself. Chemistry studies the molecular structure of matter. Physics tells us how matter interacts and how our physical world functions on a global, planetary and cosmological scale. These studies are worth much more than “producing” a technological workforce.

  • Sam

    There is a conflict of interest here. Jerry Brown is involved with Charter Schools, and cutting the standards of public schools will obviously make Charters look more appealing by comparison. This is a more reasonable explanation than budget pressures, because the disservice done to the students of California  is greater than either increasing taxing or reducing the wasteful spending on private prisons. Shame on the Governor for this decision.

  • guest

    Here’s why we need science:
    “On a dark night in February, 35 youths and chaperones went for a walk in
    the Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A
    boardwalk wound across black water, and a waxing moon lent shape to the
    dim trees. Every now and then a flash popped from a student’s camera or
    cell phone as they tried to capture the still beauty of the night. Many
    of them had never been out in the woods at night before.

    read more…


  • guest

    What happened to Lotto $$$ supposed to go to schools? Years ago that is why we voted it in, to help the schools?

    • Doug

      Excellent question! I’d love a straight answer on that.

  • Joe in Oakland

    The Governor is already planning to cut Education which he said he would not cut.  His tax proposal on the rich is not high enough, and he’s not proposing any SIGNIFICANT contributions to pensions or medical benefits for State Workers.

    Meanwhile students and schools get cuts.  Who doesn’t vote?  Who doesn’t have the lobbyists?    Kids.  

    Gov. Brown, Democrats AND Republicans ALL know this.  So they cuts benefits to Kids.

    • Judith

      Propose CONTRIBUTIONS to public pensions or medical benefits???? That’s EXACTLY why we’re in trouble financially in California! Taxing the rich? Describe just who ARE “The Rich” in a star with one of the highest costs of living….

  • Chris

    If we remove the 2 year requirement, then some schools will opt for alternative curriculum, leaving out labs and other science equipment. Thus those locations will institute an inability to teach science for the coming future. Schools from those districts will not serve kids adequately, and leave them behind.

  • Karen Prosser

    This is for the host, Spencer Michels: Spencer, in the late 1960s, you came to Sacramento State College to cover a convocation of students during the height of the students rights protests in California. You interviewed me, a junior, and I remember so well how you told me before the interview started to look at the camera as I spoke, not at you. However, I had never seen such a remarkable pair of brown eyes and I was just entranced by your beautiful eyes. At 67, you would think that I would have forgotten, but I haven’t. And, of course, I have been a big fan of your reporting forever. I have wanted to tell you this story for a long time and decided today that it was now or never.  

  • Doug

    H.d., how do you reconcile the claim that the requirement is being removed in order to discourage future liabilities with the claim that you don’t expect schools to change their policies? The only way this plan achieves its aims is in the case that schools DO remove their own mandates.

  • Guest

    This type of poor Government management, cutting services ALL our families & businesses need, is a primary reason many companies & families alike are leaving California.

    Many others who remain go to private school.  & BOTH hurt education by reduced funding from the Federal Govt.

  • Chris F

    First we cut budgets, now we want to not “add to the debt?” Give us a break, that is the same as cutting funding.

  • jim

    The host is making the show unlistenable.  With the heavy sighs, smacking of lips and the dreadful long slurping of his drink straight into the mike made me give up on the program.  Please stop.  I would have enjoyed finishing the program except for the gross distractions

  • Toni_shera

    California is falling behind.  The businesses and jobs of the future revolve around science.  We must prepare our kids.  Misha has an important point -if we tested on Science on the SAT, CASHEE etc, it will be kept.   If you eliminate the mandate, the students that need it most for better education and job opportunities are the most likely to lose the education

  • Elcirelli

    The speaker from Oakland school district brings up a great point – UC/CSU entrance requirements definitely drive the courses OFFERED at Calif. high schools, but not REQUIRED.  That difference seems to me to be where the gov.’s proposal may have an impact.  Additionally, all high school science courses are testable on the CSTs, so earlier comment regarding the value of science as a testable subject is irrelevant on the high school level.

  • $22911251

    If this horrible proposal is NOT rescinded I will NOT support the Brown’s new tax measure in November.

  • Guest

    It appears that unlike other industrialized nations like Japan and Germany, majority of Americans do not seek a career in Science.  So why do we need Science education.  They can use that time to teach Commerce, Economics or Law.

    • marie

       the problem is when a nation doesn’t have a lead in science and technology it effects the standing and the future of the nation.. just read the book  guns, germs and steels.

      and the problem is not every kid wants to study commerce  economics and law or work at low-pay service jobs.

      science and tech related jobs tend to be better jobs that pay high wages and provide and better standard of living.

      focused industries is a strategy adopted by smaller countries like singapore, switzland that has limited resources and land. for a big nation like US we should have a varieties of industries.

    • guest

       How dare they teach science…people like Mitt Romney might find out Plan B is not Abortion!

  • Chemist150

    We should force 80% of the student population to dropout at the age of 16.  They can all vote Democrat and work for the public sector while those that remain can get real jobs and pay taxes to fund the other 80%.

    It’s funny that after the governement runs the finances into the ground and wrecks the economy, the socialist parties want to give the government more power and money to set up a nanny state as if they’re willing to be a slave to  the politicians.  Removing critical thought from the curriculum will certainly give the Democrats the advantage.

    • guest

      I think you have it the wrong way.
      Repubs have no critical thinking that’s obvious look at WI.

      • Chemist150

        Conservative states have the lowest unemployment and it’s in conjunction with balanced budgets.  Say no to nanny states. That’s a fact. 

  • With the number of challenges to our survival we’ve created by our own lifestyle it is more important than ever that all of us learn to THINK  CRITICALLY and SCIENTIFICALLY.  Instead of cutting science education we ought to be teaching our children how to do this.  We need all the tools we can muster to see through the rhetoric that would have us think we’re not responsible and we CAN’T think well enough to see what’s going on.

  • marie

    wow. this is really bad decision on the governor’s part. they really should cut something else before they touch science. having gone to school in a different country as part of my teens, upon arriving at an american school,  i realized my new classmates in general are much less educated in science/math in general. and this was 10 years ago.

    math and science are more important than ever today. already sillicon valley companies are unable to hire locally b/c they can’t  find enough engineers locally. This is part of the reason of outsourcing, other than high cost of wages and doing business. the lack of the workforce with the right technical training is part of the reason they outsource.

    in china they can quickly staff a company with hundreds of engineers with decent trainings. here it’s just impossible to do that. this i heard from a tech CEO first hand.

  • Lee Ellen Shoemaker

    Is learning to use computers part of science?

  • Gay Timmons

    I work with adults who do not know anything about the science of their own bodies, let alone the fact that oil and water do not mix. REally basic fundamental knowledge. How do we expect voters to be informed about fracking or obesity or climate change if they do not have a grounding in science?

  • What I’m not sure was mentioned is the issue that the governor is only proposing to cut funding for the second year of science. In most California high schools, the first year is always biology and the second year is chemistry or physics. Is the governor placing an emphasis on life sciences over the physical sciences?

  • Leskruth

    What about basic science literacy in a Democracy? We lose that and we are in trouble! Look at the troubling “debate” around global warming!


  • Judith Kannon

    I believe our govenor is a smart man who cares about California. I voted for him. I also voted for President Obama. However, Govenor Jerry Brown needs to have the guts that Wisconson’s Govenor Scott Walker has and do away with California’s Public Employees pensions so we can afford to educate our children properly in the sciences, arts and all other aspects of a high level education. I am tired of our government being run by the unions at the expense of our future.

  • mayalibre

    I wonder if we need to be soooo doom & gloom about this. I understand the issue, but every issue is also an opportunity. For example, Salman Khan offers his Khan Academy lessons for free online, so an “old style” teacher isn’t needed. What’s needed is more of a math or science “coach” — and with students helping each other, the costs would be less while the outcomes would be higher! Also, people seem to be dissing charter schools, but the concept of vouchers is used very well in Europe. Instead of bemoaning the loss of funding for status quo style of educational delivery, why not get creative and think of new ways to deliver more for less? If the competitive advantage of the future is going to be creativity, innovation, and an ability to do more than just robotically answer exam questions, then guess what? This is our “opportunity” to get creative. Many very dynamic innovation experiments include the control of doing xyz on a shoestring or for as little money as possible. Embrace it, because money isn’t going to grow on trees, and maybe California scientists will be BETTER in the end for having to be creative with this challenge.

    • Guest

      Excellent site…Khan Academy. Literally, awesome. Thanks for mentioning it.

  • mayalibre

    Note also that the folks in India did not become math and science wizards because of well-funded programs…  They became wizards because they were motivated by poverty and they were forced to be creative.

  • Beez Kneez


  • David

    Raise taxes if you want a better tax-funded education system.  

    To get upset about cutting science education, after we’ve already cut everything else without much protest, is ridiculous.  Check out where California’s education system already ranks nationally.Two threads running through this discussion are more than a little weird: 1) that the scientific method is the root of all critical thinking; 2) that by getting rid of this particular mandate we would be short-changing our kids.The idea that the scientific method is the root of all critical thinking is philosophically and psychologically feeble-minded — and, frankly, dangerous.  For those who are interested, I recommend, in particular, Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and any number of writings by Dr. Eliott Eisner (of Stanford University).To say that we’re short-changing our kids is accurate.  However, we’ve been doing that for upwards of twenty years.  If you don’t want to keep doing it, get rid of Prop 13.

  • Jake

    I can’t believe we have to discuss this. The answer is no we should not remove the science requirement. If you don’t understand why than you need to study more science. Next issue of business.

    • David

      It’s a question of priorities.  If it’s important, then raise taxes to pay for it — and to put our state school system beach in the top ten.  What  it’s ranked now?–45th in the country?  Something like that

  • Anything_collectible

    What this act will truly do is increase the achievement gap.  College going students who are more frequently white and asian will take 3 years and non-college-going students who are more frequently Hispanic and African American will take one course.  That’s unethical.
    California is one of about 10 states that only requires 2 years.  We would be the only state in the entire country to only require 1 if we go that way.

    Just as bad as this is that the governor also removed AVID from the state budget.  AVID prepares 153,000 under-represented students to go to college.  The total budget is $8 million or $50 per student.  Typically, about 14% of this group completes the a-g requirements to qualify to go to college.  In AVID, 94% of students complete these requirements.  This writer calculated how much money the AVID program means for taxes and it’s a 10,000% return on investment.

  • Mike

    Part of the problem is where we have Math and Science teachers who do not have a degree in science. They were liberal arts majors who took the CSET to prove thier competency in the subject and can now teach.

    As a result we have teachers who do not have the passion in the subject.

    This is because a person with a degree in Math or Science can make far more in the private sector as a computer programmer, engineer or bio-chemist etc.

    Perhaps if we paid teachers based on need or market forces we could potentially hire better science teachers. Right now a History or Language Arts teacher can’t find a job (too many applicants) however school districts can’t find enough Math and Science teachers (even the ones who simply passed the test)

    However forces such as CTA guarantee that this will never happen.

  • DeepBlue

    Cutting science classes = cutting technological innovation in the future. The real damage will not show up until 20 years later when the next Google, Apple, Facebook, stealth fighter jet, and space shuttle show up in China and India instead of the USA. 

    What we are doing right now is much like eating the corn kernels that are meant for planting. We will get more resources at the immediate moment, but we will leave our next generation with much much less opportunities. 

    China and India are investing more and more in higher education while the United States is cutting more and more from higher education. China recently launched astronauts into space and started building its own space station. The United States recently shut down its space shuttle program and has to asked for help in sending supply to its astronauts in the international space station. The signs are already showing up, must we wait till other countries are laughing at our technological backwardness in a few decades.

  • Bob Fry

    But, we’re keeping football and other sports, right? ‘Cause that’s what Americans are good at!!!

  • Slappy

    I am seeing much talk about “raising taxes” for the “rich.” Just who are these “rich” that we speak of? We have many problems, none of which raising taxes will address directly. Education costs should, however, definitely be placed under the microscope.

    Problem 1)
    The notion of “no child left behind.” Our classes are FILLED with trouble-making students, students that make teaching difficult for teachers, and learning difficult for fellow students. We need a return to the old: those who continually refuse to learn and perpetually harass other students should be suspended/expelled. Getting rid of the extreme trouble makers will create better learning (and more cost-efficient) environments and save taxpayers’ money.

    Problem 2)
    Lowered K-12 educational standards. 

    Problem 3)
    Unionized state jobs. The idea of the union is great, however over the years it has created/promoted workplace apathy and financial waste. Getting rid of some of these unions will save money and encourage productivity. 

    Problem 4) 
    Teacher/professor tenure both in the K-12 and state university systems, for obvious reasons. 

    Problem 5)
    State-funded financial aid for Liberal Arts majors in the state university system. The jobs that await these LA graduates are almost completely unrelated to their studies, and can be tackled by high-school graduates that actually paid attention in school. These degree programs are thus mostly useless. While we’re on the subject…

    Problem 6)
    Liberal Arts (LA) programs in the university system. While LA programs are good to have, we absolutely do not need them in the size and scope that we have today. 

    In short, taxing the “rich” is a quick, feel-good, short-sighted and pointless solution that does little to address the many fiscal problems facing our educational institutions. We, instead, need DISCIPLINE. 

  • The second year of science for high school has not been funded to our schools since 2005.  The governor now wants to legitimize that graft and make it permanent.

  • Skdowd

    Ridiculous! I grew up in Tennessee – and we had science every year. I don’t think that we even had a choice.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor