Friday, September 22, 2006 - U.S. science education lags, study finds - Sep 21, 2006

This article points out a lot of what I think are obvious findings. - U.S. science education lags, study finds - Sep 21, 2006

Take for instance, this statement: "Part of the problem is that state and national learning standards for students in elementary and middle schools require children to memorize often-disconnected scientific facts, the report said." I was always struck by how in the chemistry TEKS (Texas' learning standards), the following TEK (10B) was given such high importance: " demonstrate and document the effects of a corrosion process and evaluate the importance of electroplating metals" when the word equilibrium--a huge idea in chemistry--doesn't even get a mention in the standards.

I'm not sure if the Reuters article is being sarcastic when they put this quote from this teacher right after talking about failing to prepare teachers:

"The report also criticized teacher training, saying undergraduate courses required for teachers were not substantial enough and schools need to support their teachers in learning more about their subject.

"Any grown-up who can read can teach middle school general sciences," said Mara Cohen, an eighth grade science teacher in New York who was certified to instruct chemistry but also teaches life and general sciences."

I would argue that it's really important that the science teachers in our schools have a solid understanding of science. Sure, if you can read and reason, you can teach curriculum straight from a textbook, but can you answer the crazy and exciting questions that are what excite children about science in the first place? I think that's incredibly valuable, and if we're going to bolster the number of science graduates that we produce in this country, we have to excite young minds about science. But don't take my word for it:

The following was an ACS commentary in Chemical & Engineering News (2006, 84, 28), in which the author makes reference to a University of Virgina Study (Science 2006, 312, 1143).

"The authors note: "An average mathematics achiever with a science-related career expectation has a higher probability of earning a baccalaureate degree in the physical sciences or engineering than a high mathematics achiever with a nonscience career expectation, 34% vs. 19%." Perhaps it's a little scary to know that career decisions can be that solidly in place in a child's mind by the eighth grade."

Of course, if you do have a solid background in science, what's the incentive in this country to be involved in primary or secondary education? After all, I'm making almost as much money to be a graduate student as I did teaching high school. If our country is serious about being competitive in science--or even just cares about generating a well-rounded, educated populus--we have to start paying competitive wages to teachers to attract the best.

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