It goes without saying, I'm sure, that I have a particular bias about including science as part of a well-rounded education. It is not enrichment. It should not be an add-on to the curriculum, or something taught as filler when the teacher finds some time. I also believe that science becomes even more important in high-poverty areas because it provides students with background experiences as the basis for literacy. It is the concrete which allows teachers to tie on abstract words and symbols. It forms the foundation for students to make personal connections and have something to write about.
An area school is more or less eliminating everything which is not reading or math from the school day. Student achievement is poor. A great number of kids are not reading at grade level by 3rd grade (after which time, they never ever catch up according to the research). It would seem to make sense that spending even more than the 120 minutes per day set aside now for reading might be necessary. We need a literate society. If students are going to be able to break the cycle of poverty their families are in, they need basic reading and numeracy skills in order to have more higher education and job options. I understand that children who can't read will struggle with everything else.
So, this is my 22 that I'm caught in at the moment. Experiences in science build literacy (vocabulary in traditional settings does not). But students have to have the basic skills in reading and writing in order to support other learning. Which is more important? Which should be first? Do we do nothing but basic literacy and numeracy skills through third grade...and then allow students the "reward" of science and social studies? Or do we engage kids in all sorts of learning experiences at the primary level and use those as opportunities for literacy? Would science specialists at the elementary level take some of the instructional pressure off of teachers? (There was a great article in the Washington Post about science coaches in area elementary schools.)
I've been asked to give some advice in this area, but I know it's a losing proposition for science. "More...more...more..." will be the literacy cry. "Make them practice reading all day, if necessary, because more instruction is the same as better instruction." I can't argue with the need for developing basic reading skills, but I might be able to toss out a few shots against the "More = Better" stance. If you have any thoughts or ammo about breaking out of this Catch-22 cycle, send them along.