In the midst of the hype about STEM, what happened to science in public schools?
Two recent reports in Education Week bemoan the stunning loss of both chemistry and physics in high schools across the country.
Three out of five secondary schools don’t offer chemistry! When they do, there’s disparity. Poor African Americans and Hispanic students don’t get the classes.
Two in 5 schools don’t offer physics! In both Alaska and Oklahoma, about 70 percent of high schools don’t offer the course. Florida and Utah are close behind, with nearly 60 percent of high schools lacking physics. Iowa, New Hampshire, and Maine do much better, with only about 15 percent of schools not offering the subject.
Small schools are hurt worse, raising questions about the quality of science instruction in charter schools.
Ninety percent of America’s kids attend public schools, so dwindling science instruction is troubling. But it’s not surprising. Defunding public education is intentional, meant to transform schools into technology hubs—charters for the poor.
A National Science Teacher Association report in 2007, showed teachers concerned about the awful school conditions they faced when teaching science. Overcrowded classes were pervasive—lab work often missing.
Here is one of the many statements by a public school teacher from that report.
In my urban inner city school, I teach a lab science in an old business room. There are no tables, benches, water or gas service, sinks, fire extinguisher, eye wash stations, fire blankets, or other equipment. In addition, while there is a high rate of attrition towards the end of the year, each September starts with 50 students in each class.
Despite what appears to be the dismantling of science in public schools, STEM is a hot topic. We’re told corporations are concerned. But what are they really up to?
Here’s are the programs Verizon supports:
- Change the Equation: A hodgepodge of programs but none that directly address science in public schools. There’s no shortage of pushing technology and data collection. They tell what’s wrong with science in public schools, but won’t really help. One program, Math Counts, emphasizes students being “empowered to be teachers,” and they encourage those in science careers to volunteer to teach. West Ed. and an organization called Education Commission of the States funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other corporations, are partners.
- My StemKits.com: Involves 3D Printable Kits, Standards-Driven Curriculum (their standards), Printer Management Platform, and Professional Development. They have professional development for teachers but it’s costly. There’s a Single User Plan, Enterprise Plan, and Custom Quotes.
- Venture Lab: Is about entrepreneurial learning and much of their emphasis is on girls. Venture Lab is their own curriculum. They work in schools and outside of school, like with the Girl Scouts. It doesn’t appear to do anything to address the needs of students in public schools.
Some of these programs have ties to universities. A student is lucky if they live near one. They are not lucky if their school has no chemistry or physics classes, has shoddy labs and few teachers with science backgrounds, and the ability to teach.
The reliance on technology is unproven but driving the changes.
What about future learning gaps? If this country doesn’t invest in real science instruction, the kind we have relied on in the past, only better, then what hope will we have in the future for scientific breakthroughs?
What should students do?
Cristal Glangchai, PhD, is showcased on the Verizon website. She is founder and CEO of VentureLab and director the Blackstone LaunchPad, an entrepreneurship program at University of Texas and colleges around the country and world. Unfortunately, they make little mention of public schools. It’s mostly about online learning.
Glangchai says students should:
- Explore nature.
- Take things apart and analyze how they work.
- Build things out of recycled materials.
- Take advantage of free admissions days at children’s museums.
- Teach the phenomenon of science in the kitchen – it’s all chemistry, after all.
- And, check out free resources like Code.org and Khan Academy.
Thus, if your child is one of the 90% of students in public schools seeking great science instruction, it might be hard to find real science classes. That’s too bad for your child, and scary for the rest of us.
Public school science teachers and parents, feel free to comment.
Stephen Sawchuk. “Chemistry Absent Fom 3 in 5 Secondary Schools, Analysis Finds.” Education Week. December 27, 2017.
Liana Heitin. “2 in 5 High Schools Don’t Offer Physics, Analysis Finds.” Education Week. August 23, 2016.
I have a chapter “Students, Jobs, and the Global Economy” with a “STEM” subsection in my book.