A Case of High School Earth and Space Science in the Great Plains

Monday 2:15pm Weeks Geo: AB20
Oral Presentation


Elizabeth Lewis, University of Nebraska at Lincoln
While U.S. high school students' access to Earth and space science (ESS) varies widely from state to state, nationally ESS content is the most neglected area of science education. States are in the process of formally adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which have been carefully developed and articulated in conjunction with state educational leaders. However, the authors of the standards rarely address the classroom-level challenge with which states, school districts, and teachers must grapple in order to enact science lessons that reflect the distinctive features of ESS concepts and show that their students are meeting the NGSS high school learning objectives. This study of one Great Plains state asks the questions: (a) How do school districts provide ESS education at the high school level? and (b) To what degree is ESS being taught by in- and out-of-field science teachers? We found that only 12% of sampled districts offered a stand-alone ESS course for high school students, while 76% of districts integrated ESS topics with existing physical science and/or biology courses. School districts control the course structure of how ESS state and national standards are implemented in HS classrooms. During the 7-year period (2007-2008 to 2013-2014 academic years) we investigated, the state awarded 759 science teaching endorsements to either new or in-service teachers; only 3.16% were secondary (grades 7-12) single-subject ESS endorsements. Thus, most high school science teachers are teaching ESS out-of-field and are doing so with less than a minor in the subject. When teachers teach out-of-field they lack the confidence and ESS subject matter knowledge to teach using inquiry-based approaches and are less likely to recognize misconceptions and oversimplification of ESS content. With continued marginalization of 9-12 ESS education through policy and practice, we may never achieve our national vision of scientific literacy.