When San Diego’s school district began overhauling its science-education curriculum five years ago, it wanted to raise the performance of minority, low-income and immigrant students.
But parents in middle- and upper-income areas, where many students were already doing well, rebelled against the new curriculum, and a course called Active Physics in particular. They called it watered-down science, too skimpy on math.
A resistance movement took hold. Some teachers refused to use the new textbooks, which are peppered with cartoons. They gathered up phased-out texts to use on the sly. As controversy over the issue escalated, it played a part in an election in which the majority of the school board was replaced. Now, further curriculum changes are under consideration.
The skirmishes in the nation’s eighth-largest urban school district reflect a wider battle over how to make science classes accessible to a broader array of students while maintaining their rigor.
Amid mediocre U.S. scores on international science tests and predictions of future shortages of scientists and engineers, policy makers have begun requiring more science in schools. By 2011, 27 states will require high-school students to take at least three science courses to graduate. In 1992, only six had such requirements.