The late Steve Jobs thought highly of the California public schools he attended in the 1960s and early 1970s, according to the new biography of him by Walter Isaacson. The schools must have done something right to stir the mind of our age’s genius inventor and entrepreneur. But the biography also revealed that Mr. Jobs believed America’s schools today were “crippled by union work rules.”
His dismal assessment seems validated by a new study by the University of California, Berkeley, titled “High Hopes — Few Opportunities.” In California schools, it found, “Children rarely have the opportunity to engage in high-quality science because the conditions that would support such learning are rarely in place and because very little support infrastructure for science education exists in the state’s schools and school districts.” In the first grade, students spend less than an hour per week on science. And even in the fifth grade, when science is tested, students spend less than two hours per week.
The study was based on a two-year examination of science education in California’s elementary schools and was conducted by UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science and SRI International of Menlo Park. It also included a poll, which found that 86 percent of Californians view science as “very important to essential” to a good education. And the study quoted President Obama, who said at the 2009 meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, “Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, and our way of life than it has ever been.”
One conclusion of the study was that science education “is not a priority in California’s elementary schools because of the pressures of existing accountability systems, which are focused on English language arts and mathematics.”
But wait a nanosecond. “If that were true, we would be doing great in English and math, but we’re doing badly in all,” Lance Izumi told us; he’s the director for education studies at the Pacific Research Institute. “Science theory relies a lot on math. And if you can’t read well, you can’t read the science text.”
Unfortunately, things could get worse, Mr. Izumi warned. President Obama’s new Common Cores standards, foisted on all the states, will be “dumbing down future science learning here,” Mr. Izumi said. “What you will have is not science standards, but science ‘appreciation’ standards.”