California must invest in science and math instruction in the state budget right now

Carolyn Jones / EdSource

Every day brings more reminders of the importance of math and science in our lives. From understanding how communicable viruses spread and how vaccines work to combating the effects of climate change on our communities, knowledge of math and science are essential.

While we absolutely need more scientists, mathematicians and data analysts, having a solid foundation in these fields is necessary for all of us to make good decisions for ourselves, our communities and our planet, regardless of our professions.

Yet in California, only 1 in 3 students met on the state’s standards in the most recent state tests, both math and science, and for some student groups, gaps widened, stalling years of progress toward closing gaps. California scores better than just three other states on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress’s math test of eighth-graders. Significant gaps between student groups have been stubbornly persistent for more than 20 years.

Being a state at the forefront of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, industry and innovation and – this year – with an overwhelming state budget surplus, our math and science student outcomes make one thing alarmingly clear: California, we have a problem.

Fortunately, California has a significant chance to support improved STEM instruction in this year’s budget. While there are many possible ways for young people to learn, research shows that the single biggest in-school factor in students’ learning is the quality of their classroom instruction.

Over the last several years, California has adopted world-class standards in mathematics and science that present significant new ways of teaching that we combine materials and career skills in rigorous and relevant ways. But these standards and new instructional approaches can only be effective if teachers and those who support teachers understand how to implement them. These new instructional approaches include research-based strategies for designing lessons that show students how concepts and skills can be used to solve challenging problems in the world. They also incorporate strategies to integrate language development into math and science so that all students – including those still gaining English proficiency – can access grade-level content.

Math and science educators in California have been asking for this kind of support for years and are now investing in a coherent state infrastructure to develop high-quality professional development and network educators to work together to improve their instruction. Our proposal, which was introduced to the Legislature as Assembly Bill 2565 and reflected in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised May budget, designed to build on existing initiatives to expand access to high-quality and sustained professional learning for educators across the state. The proposal will expand the California Statewide Early Math Initiative and the California Partnership for Math and Science Education to ensure coordination throughout California’s TK-12 system by bringing together providers of professional development, teacher leaders, community-based organizations and specialists in math, science, English language development and special education to learn together in the practice of statewide and regional communities. Participants in these communities would then practice to help lead and support professional learning in their own counties, districts and schools.

While the governor’s May budget includes $ 85 million for this statewide network and an additional $ 300 million to fund school educators’ participation in science and math education, the California Legislature’s budget has reallocated this funding into a much larger discretionary block grant. for salaries only.

We support the governor’s proposed budget which includes funding for educators’ salaries and An investment in professional learning for educators. If funding for the state infrastructure is not included in the budget, districts may have funds to spend on staff, but there will not be sufficient professional learning or a statewide network to support educators’ ongoing professional development and growth. Districts will be left on their own to seek or develop appropriate professional learning – as was the case with the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards – which is particularly challenging for many small, remote and under-resourced districts across the state, Further exacerbating equity gaps in the quality of instruction that students receive. The May budget revision addresses this need and targets funding directly to the regional consortia to build this infrastructure.

If we do not invest in what educators need and research shows, we are setting up our students and our schools to fail. There is a clear opportunity on the table to give California districts the world-class, collaborative support they deserve to continue our state’s leadership in innovation and technology. Please join us in urging the California Legislature to work with the governor to ensure that California’s teachers have the support they need to equip our next generation of skilled and innovative problem-solvers that our state desperately needs.


Christopher J. Nellum is the Executive Director of The Education Trust-West, a research and advocacy organization advocating for educational justice and the highest academic achievement of all California students, pre-K through college, especially those of color and living in poverty.

Peter A’Hearn is the President of the California Association of Science Educators, which leads the promotion of high-quality, equitable science education through advocacy, collaboration and communication.

Shari Dickstein-Staub is the director of the California Partnership for Math and Science Education, which uses the practice model of communities to build educators’ ability to access meaningful mathematics and science teaching and learning statewide.

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