Sad state of science education

It’s not ‘reform’ we need; it’s focus

The author is a Chico State emeritus professor of biological sciences and president of the Chico Science Fair Foundation board.

As former dean of the College of Natural Sciences at CSU, Chico, I supported science education and worked on various projects with many CUSD science teachers. All I got to know were industrious, dedicated, smart and innovative. They labored under difficult conditions—insufficient resources, an unwieldy bureaucracy, and too many parents with unrealistic demands.

In the 40 years I have studied science education, research papers, newspapers, television and radio, the Web and every other form of communication regularly bemoaned the state of science education. As ABC News reports, “High school seniors in the United States were among the lowest-scoring students from 41 nations that participated in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study [in (2007]. … This is not simply a problem of kids not understanding basic science. Science literacy among young people who will be entering the work force in the immediate future is so poor that it threatens the economic prosperity of the country.”

Professors, teachers, administrators, local, state and federal agencies all contribute to the state of science (and math) education. All deal with the lack of money, political and personal shenanigans, issues such as assessment, teacher certification, vouchers, charter schools, SAT/ACT, bullying, ADHD, larger class sizes, dropout rates, language diversity, drug use, and so on.

All this is happening on a background of anti-science, or at least unawareness of what good science is. Sarah Palin believes that dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth together; Glen Beck rejects climate change and says that anyone who believes in it is a socialist. These are influential people; if they are bereft of scientific knowledge, how can we expect society to recognize and demand scientific literacy?

Technological changes require more education and intellectual prowess to meet the challenges of operating in a globalized information economy. We don’t need science-education “reform.” There are lots of good ways to teach science. We need focus—focus on supporting the teachers and removing all the unnecessary political, logistical and administrative burdens that are continually being created by a few bureaucrats at every level who have lost sight of what teaching is all about.

Editor’s note: This article is in response to a Sept. 7 Newslines story, “More Complaints out of Chico High,” about science teacher Anne Stephens’ conflicts with the Chico Unified School District.