What You’re Saying
Elementary and middle school educators say class time for science continues to be squeezed. In a recent NSTA online poll of educators, 44.6% reported time for science decreased in the 2010–2011 school year compared to the year before. Only 16.3% reported an increase in time allotted for science, and 39% said it had remained steady. The survey also found 26.3% spent less than 100 minutes each week on science instruction. Only 18.6% reported spending 250–300 minutes or more in science weekly, while nearly 26.1% spent 200–250 minutes on the subject.
Of those reporting a drop in science instruction time, many cited additional time being devoted to mathematics and English language arts (ELA) as the reason. One teacher recalled being told by an administrator “that science is not important” because state funding was based on reading and math scores. Others noted science classes are the preferred time for schools to pull students out for extracurricular activities ranging from special assemblies to school photos.
Conversely, 56.7% of respondents said time allotted for ELA had remained unchanged, and half reported the same for mathematics. Forty-nine percent of respondents noted spending 400 or more minutes each week teaching ELA. A similar number (48.9%) said they devoted 200–350 minutes each week to math instruction; an additional 36.7% reported spending 350 minutes or more on math each week.
Here’s what science educators are saying:
All extracurricular activities come out of science classes. Examples—assemblies, picture day...There were 13 entire days devoted to activities that claimed all six periods of science since science “does not count.”
—Educator, Middle School, Tennessee
I was told by my building administrator that science is not important. “The state doesn’t see it as important or it would be tested. We get our points and money based on reading and math. Those should be our focus.”
—Educator, Elementary, Ohio
Reading teachers think that nonfiction science books teach science topics. Also, if there are assemblies or school events, science is the time it is taken from.
—Educator, Elementary, Connecticut
There are more classes in my school than before, so the availability of the science teacher to provide instruction has been reduced.
—Educator, Elementary, New York
Fifth- and sixth-grade science teachers in our school district have a block of time devoted to math and science. Teachers are encouraged to have “centers,” [and] it’s highly “recommended” by process coordinators that teachers develop centers that are driven by math instruction; for example, four centers, three of which are strictly math, and one of which is a split between math and science. Some teachers follow this model. Most “science” teachers do their best to split the time relatively evenly.
—Educator, Elementary, Missouri
To fit [in] scheduling for ELA and math, social studies and science have been cut in half...one marking period of [social studies] then one of [science] then [social studies] then [science] (every other marking [period]).
—Educator, Elementary, Delaware
We have a mandated daily 90-minute reading block plus a daily 90-minute math block. (As a former science teacher, I am sorely disappointed.)
—Educator, Elementary, Florida
We have a new math curriculum [that] takes more time. Also, teachers have been directed to focus instructional time on reading and math. Teachers are allowed to “integrate” science or teach it as little as once per month. Scary!
—Educator, Elementary, Middle School, Ohio
Science on the Rise
1) My students were tested for science on the state proficiency exam. 2) I found a way to integrate science into my reading and math programs.
—Educator, Elementary, New Mexico
I am more careful to allot science time. I can use science as an incentive to complete math work: Finish math successfully, [and] we go to the science lab.
—Educator, Elementary, Texas
I have tried to focus on it more. I believe that students need science, especially outdoor science. I have taught my comprehension using science texts instead of the not-very-interesting stories in our basal reading program.
—Educator, Elementary, Utah
Some teachers had stopped teaching science altogether. It is no longer an option to not teach it.
—Administrator, Elementary, Middle School, High School, Minnesota
The school day was extended, so there is more instructional time.
—Educator, Middle School, Pennsylvania