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High Hopes, Few Opportunities (Summary Report & Recommendations): The Status of Elementary Science Education in California

By Rena Dorph, Patrick M. Shields, Juliet Tiffany-Morales, Ardice Hartry, Teresa McCaffrey, John McDonald, Margaret Gaston, Patsy Wilkes, Linda Bond


This report, prepared by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, summarizes extensive new research examining science education in California’s classrooms, schools, and school districts. A key finding? Students have little access to high-quality science education.

This finding, and others, are based on:

  • The results of research surveys of California elementary and middle school teachers, principals, and school district leaders
  • An analysis of secondary data on students and teachers
  • Case studies of science education efforts in California schools conducted in 2010 and 2011

The report reveals that intense pressure to meet accountability goals in mathematics and English has limited time for science, and teachers. Furthermore, schools do not have the infrastructure support needed to consistently provide students with quality science learning opportunities.

Among the findings:

  • Forty percent of elementary teachers say they spend 60 minutes or less teaching science each week
  • Only one third of elementary teachers say they feel prepared to teach science
  • Eighty-five percent of teachers say they have not received any professional development in science during the last three years
  • 9 in 10 principals say science education is very important and should start early
  • Less than half of principals (44%) believe it is likely that a student would receive high-quality science instruction in his or her school

Despite the discouraging findings, science education in California’s elementary school classrooms can be greatly improved. Educators and policymakers can find out how they can do their part by reading this report.

Also included are results from previous public opinion research: A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students found that Californians believe high-quality science education should be a top priority for the state’s schools.

In addition to this summary report, download the full report.

Visit the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd website for more information about the Center and its publications.

Resource Details

Product Information

Product #: CFTL-11-01
Copyright: 2011
Format: PDF
Pages: 24
Publisher: The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd