Statewide Efforts Elevate the Status of Earth Science in California K-12 Schools
For decades, California has relegated Earth science to a second-tier status. The rollout of the Next Generation Science Standards led to a shift where Earth science now takes a much more central role. After California adopted the NGSS in 2013, it began drafting its own curriculum framework to envision how the standards should be implemented in California classrooms. There was no explicit effort to elevate Earth science, but the shift grew out of two other pressures: 1) a desire for science integrated across the disciplines; and 2) environmental educators pushing for more emphasis on interactions between human and natural systems. At the high school level, we outlined a 'three course model' where students used traditional biology, chemistry, and physics concepts to explain Earth and Space science phenomena, with particular emphasis on the environmental problems of the day. Climate change is a central thread to all three of the courses. We gave the courses new names, "Living Earth", "Chemistry in the Earth System", and "Physics of the Universe". While Earth science still doesn't sit on equal footing as those three traditional science courses, districts that adopt this model elevate Earth and space science to a central role in every science course. More than half of California districts have adopted this three course model and the UC system now accepts it as a legitimate laboratory sequence. The challenge is now about implementation. Few publishers have crafted materials for the courses and teachers remain underprepared to integrate the Earth science content into the disciplines in which they hold credentials. Earth scientists have a new footing, but now we need to step up to help realize the potential of this transition.