Advocating for Access to Financial Support of Science in Your School and District
By Jill Grace
Teachers, the moment is NOW for you to take action to influence how your district supports science education.
I often get inquiries by teachers as to how they can gain access to financial support as they transition to instruction in the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). This includes funding to attend professional learning opportunities (like the state-wide CA NGSS Roll Outs or CSTA’s California Science Education Conference which has a heavy CA NGSS emphasis) or sub-release time for teacher collaborative planning. The lack support in some districts and schools for these activities appears to be a “lost in translation” issue; many principals and district leaders are financially supporting these activities as they relate to English language arts and math, but not science. One of the reasons why we have a lengthy period of time leading to full implementation of the CA NGSS is to give teachers time to prepare: time to refresh on science concepts that are new at your grade-level and time to wrap your head around the shifts in instruction that the CA NGSS call for. The need for this time to prepare for the implementation of the CA NGSS is recognized at the state-level.
“We encourage local districts to begin implementation of the science standards now. The recently released draft of the new California NGSS curriculum framework can serve as an invaluable resource at all grade levels. We recognize the time required to build capacity among teachers and students for these new science standards,” said Mike Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education.
Trish Williams, member and NGSS Liaison on the California State Board of Education (SBE) added: “the State Board of
Education knows that the NGSS represent a very different way of teaching from the 1998 California science standards, and knows that change takes time; teachers of science will need professional learning support from their district to explore and become comfortable teaching science with an NGSS three-dimensional approach." Furthermore, "the SBE is eager to replace the outdated federally required science CST as soon as is feasible. We are closely examining the newly adopted federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to determine our various options for moving forward more quickly on the development of NGSS aligned assessments."
Having that translate down at the local level is often where the challenge lies. If your district isn’t a part of a grant initiative (like an MSP or K-8 CA NGSS Early Implementers), how can you get what you need? Here are some things that can help with understanding the process.
First, the school funding and accountability landscape in California has changed from what it was just a couple years ago. California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), adopted by the State in 2013, represented a radical shift in how districts get funded. Instead of funding in dozens of separate categorical programs coming from the state, school funding goes directly to school districts.
Second, LCFF now gives a great deal of flexibility to district leadership (Superintendents and Boards) on how they may choose to spend their district funding to meet local capacity and needs while also addressing the new CA Eight State Priorities for education. In making those decisions, district leadership are expected to solicit input from all stakeholders (teachers, parents, community, etc.) to inform their plans and decisions about district programs, activities, and funding allocations.
In other words, teachers are a stakeholder group, having a say in how a district chooses to spend state-allocated funding for education.
Each district’s process for and input from stakeholder engagement, and the decisions made by the Superintendent and Board, have been documented in the district’s required Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) document for 2015-18. These can typically be found on the district's website.
Third, one of the new CA eight state education priorities relates to implementation of CA academic standards. According to Trish Williams, member and NGSS Liaison on the California State Board of Education (SBE), “Priority 2 of the LCAP must address implementation of ALL academic standards adopted by the State Board (http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/lc/lcfffaq.asp#LCAP), not just Common Core ELA and Math. This expectation for State Priority 2 includes the CA NGSS, which was adopted by the SBE in 2013. Although districts will certainly vary in their approach to implementation planning for NGSS, one example of how such planning might show up in a district’s LCAP is a roll out plan for district wide teacher learning around NGSS, with activities and a timeline, along with an indication of the sources of district funding allocations to support this work.” Since as early as 2014, Trish Williams has been reminding us that science is a part of implementation of new state adopted standards and therefore state funding can be applied to science (see her March, 2014 EdSource article here).
So how can a teacher gain access to financial support for science professional learning?
Be a voice in your district.
Teachers are a critical voice in the LCAP planning process, make your voice heard in your district about your need for professional learning support for NGSS to be a critical component of your district’s LCAP. CSTA has worked at the state level to improve the communication about the scope of State Priority #2 – now the work falls to the local level and in your community where the decisions about what is included in your district’s LCAP is made.
For help in strengthening science education in a district LCAP, the Lawrence Hall of Science created this useful resource: the LCAP Toolkit for STEM Advocates. It is clear that teacher professional development including time for collaborative planning is necessary. In advocating for science teachers in California (and that includes elementary teachers), it is CSTA’s position that California LEAs should fund professional learning for science teachers, as they do for every subject identified in within the LCFF and LCAP. Professional learning should be offered by individuals qualified to provide professional learning in California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS) and must be focused on the CA NGSS, not driven solely by instructional materials.
To see what other districts are up to, you can follow LCAP Watch and search for "Science," "NGSS," or "Next Generation Science Standards." ABC, Torrance, Elk Grove, and Oakland are examples of informative plans to search for that represent varied district demographics.
LEAs are required to review and update their LCAPs in the spring of each year to be submitted to their County Office of Education by July 1. January would be the right timing for teachers of science in any district at any grade level to express their NGSS professional learning interests and needs to the LEA science supervisor and Superintendent to help ensure that sufficient funding is allocated for that purpose. Many times, your Principal can help you take the first steps, and if they don’t know, inquire about who the person is at the district-level can help you. It’s time to speak up in your school and district!