Even though students today, in reality, sound capable to tackle STEM jobs, what about the students of tomorrow? With the heavy push for high-stakes testing, the questionable negative rhetoric by the Obama Administration and others about STEM, and the dramatic changes to the curriculum with Common Core State Standards, is this country going to wake up to find a whole generation has missed out on obtaining critical science skills?
We are still bombarded in the media with the message that our country is facing a labor shortage when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The implication is the U.S. is woefully unprepared and will dissolve into doom and gloom if we don’t get our act together and prepare our young people for these careers. There are many reasons why this message has been promoted. But, according to a 2013 Economic Policy Institute report:
“The United States has a large number of STEM ready students and produces large shares of high-performing students who rank at the top internationally. This fact is often overlooked, perhaps because the overall size of the STEM work force is small and because focusing on average performance in international student rankings is misleading. When we examine the data carefully, we find that test scores of U.S. high school students have been improving, that a remarkably small fraction of all high school graduates will find STEM employment available upon graduating college, and that the United States actually produces a significant share of the world’s high performing students.”
So every indication is that our students are well-prepared for STEM careers—today. But what about tomorrow?
More specifically, how much science do students get in their elementary schools? With Common Core currently focused on English language arts and math, where do you even find science? Is science so buried in the integrated curriculum that students miss out on learning science skills altogether?
We have known for quite some time that science has been given short shrift in public schools. Yet elementary school is where young students are introduced to science. Where they begin to determine whether they like it–or not.
With the heavy emphasis on testing since No Child Left Behind, science was really left behind. As Diane Ravitch notes in Reign of Error, “The unnatural focus on testing produced perverse but predictable results: it narrowed the curriculum; many districts scaled back time for the arts, history civics, physical education, science, foreign language, and whatever was not tested (p.13).”
Race to the Top provides grants for STEM in various areas, but such handling of science is sketchy. A whole lot of students are left out.
Common Core has described an array of “pick and choose” science standards and projects (seen here http://www.achievethecore.org/page/733/science-and-the-technical-subjects-lessons and here http://www.readworks.org/spotlight-on-science#k), but they lack substance and consistency.
The truth seems to be that there is no real science curriculum at the elementary level. Teachers are too busy covering English language arts and mathematics to be bothered with teaching students much science.
While the continual chanting about the lack of STEM skills—proven false—continues to echo across the land, are we actually creating a whole new generation skill-less in science?
I welcome your thoughts on this and let me know your experience teaching science, or tell me how your school addresses this important subject. How much science is your student getting in elementary school?
Hal Salzman, Daniel Kuehn, and B. Linsay Lowell. “Guestworkers in the High-Skill U.S. Labor Market: An Analysis of Supply, Employment, and Wage Trends.” Economic Policy Institute. April 24, 2013. Briefing Paper #359. http://s3.epi.org/files/2013/bp359-guestworkers-high-skill-labor-market-analysis.pdf.
Ravitch, Diane. Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013) 13.
Lyn H says
Oh there is no real science. My kids used to love our science lab. Very experimental, fun. Now it is described by my 4th grader as “boring” science-in-a-box. And it is literally a box – a Common Core – “kit” to perpetuate what is on the test. It is not used to formalize analysis. Because then all the answers might not be the same… and carry a data point. Oh, and now they only go once a month to lab and twice a week to science. And in those bi-weekly science classes the instruction time is being co-oped by math and language arts. I worry my child will not really understand what science is intended to do. STEM is an after thought.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks Lyn. I appreciate hearing about this though it is sad. On one hand we hear about the need for STEM (including science), but then there seems to be less and less of it. How strange. It is like they don’t have CC completed yet so students just get a bit of science. I also don’t think I’m going to like what they come up with if they ever do come up with anything of substance. I think it is dangerous to make such drastic changes to the curriculum in the name of reform.
Jeremy Spencer says
As science teacher, I have looked at the Next Gen Science Standards and there is a huge gap in the progressions of science literacy from the elementary grades to the secondary grades. If you look at the secondary grades, it is assumed that a lot of science literacy skills have been developed from K-5, but the Next Gen appears to not do that.
The elementary grades appear to concentrate on environmental literacy instead of scientific literacy…that is a huge and glaring difference. It is okay to learn of studying the environment and environmental stewardship but that should not the sole concentration of developing science knowledge in order to perform true science skills. If the Next Gen would substitute teaching ecological models versus environmentalism, then that would be more aligned with the desire of STEM education. However, the progressions in the standards are very lacking in the earlier grades.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Jeremy. I’ve been focusing on the lack of science, but learning about how science is taught, when it is taught, is every bit as important.
Stefani Farris says
I am the Science Lab teacher at my school. I think I have the best job in our school district! I see all of the kids (K-5) at least once a week and while I work diligently to incorporate CCSS I never abandon the hands on activities that are what makes Science fun! With every new curriculum come new challenges but that is what we deal with as educators. There have always been and will always be changes that we have no control over but if you are a good teacher you will find a way to make the necessary adjustments.
Nancy Bailey says
Hi Stephanie, Thank you for your post. I am happy you are happy with your job. I didn’t know science classes were already implementing Common Core State Standards which I believe will be called Next Generation Science. I am glad you can work around them and still make science fun.