Earth Science and the Regents Scholarship of Utah
Post date: Feb 17, 2017 10:19:04 PM
Maybe it is my new-found ‘position’ of being the 2014 Earth Science Teacher of the Year and 2016 Southwest Region Earth Science Education of the Year that has made me up the crusade against the biggest disappointment in my teaching career, and that is the status of Earth Science. This is why I wrote this. The Regents Scholarship is maybe the top scholarship in the state, and it is so powerful the curriculum is set by it. The problem is they are biased against Earth Science. There are many requirements to the scholarship, but the one that should change is the fact that Earth Science is not an option for the science requirements.
Why? I have been told that Earth Science is not a ‘lab’ science, to which I say, that is a 100% LIE. I have worked in an Earth Science lab before, and have friends that do that for a living. If you actually examine the curriculum of both classes, as dictated by the state, and look for indicators (that’s teacher speak for the to-do list for the class), and you look for lab-based indicators (things like measure, experiment, model etc.), Physics has 9 by my count (http://www.uen.org/core/core.do?courseNum=3640), and Earth Science has 12 (http://www.uen.org/core/core.do?courseNum=3600). So that argument of Earth Science being not a lab course is very wrong, especially when compared to Physics.
I have also been told that students who skip Earth Science and take Bio, Chem, and Physics do better on the ACTs. There are several problems with this. First of all, the ACT test does NOT have a preference for Bio, Chem, and Physics. Quoting http://www.actstudent.org/testprep/descriptions/scidescript.html, they say "The test assumes that students are in the process of taking the core science course of study (three years or more) that will prepare them for college-level work and have completed a course in Earth science and/or physical science and a course in biology." Based on this, it would actually be better to take Earth Science and Biology your first two years of high school. Yes, Chemistry could be that physical science class, but you will miss out on important Earth Science concepts that are on the test. The ACT's report "The Toolbox Revisited" is often cited as a source for this bias against Earth Science, but the report states no such thing. it clearly states:
2.5 or more Carnegie units of science or more than 2.0 Carnegie units of core
laboratory science (biology, chemistry, and physics)
Immediately after this, it states “ These are minimums. “ This means that we should be pushing more science. Why not 4 years of science, since this is supposed to be the most rigorous and prestigious scholarship that Utah offers? Also, notice that it says 2 years from Bio, Chem, and Physics. Guess what? The third year could still be Earth Science. It has also been argued that ACT data show that students that take Bio in 9th grade do better on the ACT overall. The problem with that argument is it is completely circular. OF COURSE college-ready students take Bio over Earth Science, you give them no choice. Because curriculum is set to the Regents Scholarship, and councilors state-wide push their college-ready eight graders into Bio instead of Earth Science. It would only be surprising if Bio students had lower scores for some reason. This is a dubious correlation with no causation, and any scientist could tell you that.
The impact that this arbitrary decision to exclude Earth Science has can not be understated. At my schools I have taught at, and let me assure you my experience is not unique, I have been told that I can not even offer and honors course in Earth Science, because it will confuse students who are trying for the Regents Scholarship. Biology, on the other hand, is often honors ONLY (at least at the middle-school level). Worst of all, many students are never exposed to Earth Science, because if you skip it in 9th grade, it is only very rarely offered to non-9th graders.
Maybe the worst part of this injustice is how students can get around the requirements that the Regents Scholarship is trying to establish. Students can take lighter versions of the ‘correct’ science class with potentially a) lighter course loads and labs, b) less state requirements (no core curriculum), and/or c) no end-of-year test. These classes include Agricultural Biology, Human Biology, and Physics with Technology. There is nothing wrong with these classes, but to say they are more important or academically rigorous is ludicrous, and colleges will look down upon them on applications.
About colleges... it is often stated that Earth Science is not aligned with college requirements. This is a yet another lie. Colleges do not say Bio, Chem, AND Physics. They say OR. You take 2 of the three. UCLA, the most applied school in the world, requires this. (https://www.admission.ucla.edu/prospect/Adm_fr/fracadrq.htm). The U of U is basically the same (http://admissions.utah.edu/apply/undergraduate/high-school-core-requirements.php). And by the way, a student who takes a non-traditional science class substitute, like Physics with Tech or Ag Bio… how is this going to look for admissions? It looks like a cop-out. Earth Science is a foundational science.
Also, consider the topics of earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis, landslides, climate change, water rights, and natural resource development/conservation. These are just some of the real-life things our 9th graders may deal with in their actual lives. Now, you could make a case that these topics are even more important than learning the topics of high-school Chemistry, Physics, or Biology. Even if you disagree, you have to agree that having the public educated on Earth Science topics is wise, if not required, in the world we are living in today.
There is no other course, ever, that has to compete on an unleveled playing field with fellow sub-discaplines. No one says, “Oh, you are smart, you should take Spanish instead of French” or “The college-bound art class is sculpture, so maybe you should take drawing.” It is just plain unfair, especially since some kids might actually like Earth Science! Shouldn’t we be doing what kids want? Is it not possible that a talented student likes black holes, weather, plate tectonics, or ocean currents more than Biology? By not allowing them to make this choice, you are depriving them of some of their first taste of true freedom, or, making them decide between they academic interests and their financial future.
Part of the reason behind the position of Earth Science is a stigma left behind from the days of “Earth Systems.” This class, which has not existed since 2011, was a review class for students, and was often seen as a step down to High School Biology. But the new Utah core of Earth Science has been revamped, and it is just as rigorous as any other class. Utah has spent good money writing the curriculum for Earth Science, writing and revamping the SAGE test for Earth Science, and will continue to do so. Why then, should it be a second-class subject?
Would you be willing to contact the Regents? The more people, like yourself, that bring this issue up to them, the more likely it will change.
Their email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call (801) 321-7159 during business hours, 8:00am to 5:00pm.