Why are students being held back from being the best they can be in science? Making scientific advancements through exploration involves good preparation of the ninety percent of students who attend public schools across the country.
We need good scientists to fix our problems. Climate change, antibiotics, drinking water, pollution, overpopulation, diseases, microplastics and garbage, and clean energy are just a few difficult issues facing the world today.
Most troubling, is the way students in poor urban and rural areas are portrayed as failing, while up-to-date public school science facilities and labs continue to be beyond their reach.
How can public schools attract outstanding science teachers if these teachers will face substandard science classrooms, and if they don’t have access to the funding necessary for great labs and lab equipment?
Recently NPR’s Here and Now highlighted the achievements of four U.S. students preparing to attend the International Biology Olympiad in Hungary. They are being sponsored by the Center for Excellent Education because the federal government refuses to fund the Olympiad claiming it’s an elites program.
Elites program? In this country they found at least 10,000 students who excel in biology. Not only does the U.S. Department of Education hide this, these students had to struggle and climb over insufficient labs to reach their success! Many could not qualify for the Olympiad because they didn’t have access to the necessary labs!
Americans should be ashamed that our public school students are repeatedly disparaged in the news and their successes ignored, while they’ve had to overcome unnecessary obstacles caused by underfunded schools and a country that refuses to invest in their futures!
Corporate school reformers are quick to say public schools fail, but they’ve obstructed good science programs by marketing school privatization and creating unproven for-profit programs that focus on their own agendas.
For years they were given the green light to steer education policy at the federal, state, and local governmental levels. Draconian high-stakes testing found in NCLB and Race to the Top stole or reduced the importance of science in poor public schools.
In elementary schools under President Bush’s No Child Left Behind, children were forced to fixate on reading and math to do well on high-stakes tests. Science, social studies, and the arts were shoved out of the curriculum. High schools emphasized Advanced Placement (AP) which focused on passing a test at the end of each AP class.
This continued under President Obama’s Race to the Top. Change the Equation directed federal funding to private companies and programs that were centered around science outside of public schools. It did little to fix the dismal facilities and lacking resources for science in poor public schools.
The Trump administration has little regard for science education in public schools, proposing devastating cuts to science programs.
Common Core State Standards concentrated on English language arts and math with little emphasis on science, since these were the subjects tested. Only recently have states promoted Next Generation Science (also tied to Common Core),but that program is controversial. Both Common Core and Next Generation Science are moneymakers for for-profit companies.
The real travesty is how difficult it is for students to demonstrate their abilities in science. It’s well-known that teachers pay out of pocket to get labs, which are expensive. If teachers can’t pay for labs, students do without.
If parents think their child will be better served in science by attending a charter school, think again. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools readily admits that charter schools have little access to science labs.
In 2018, the California School Boards Association sued the State of California because the state mandated raising the number of science classes students needed to graduate. They required labs in science courses, but many high schools didn’t have appropriate facilities or resources.
Raising science standards in public schools, while denying those schools the necessary funding to effectively teach the standards, is a favorite trick to condemn public schools as failing.
Not only does this obstruction deter future scientists, it fails to provide students a sound understanding of science principles, so that they will grow into adults who respect science and better understand the problems that might be solved by science if this country invests in its students.
It isn’t only about creating excellent scientists, it’s about increasing awareness of science, so adults in the future regard science as important.
We are a wealthy country. It’s despicable that we are failing to provide our public school students with what they need to understand the importance of science at this critical time.
Roger Titcombe says
Yet again you raise important negative consequences of privatising the state education system (what you call public schools). And yet again the parallels with over here are strong. I wrote this in 2017 and the situation in English schools is now even worse.
While illiteracy in relation to reading and writing is regarded as shameful, scientific illiteracy remains ‘a badge of honour’ in much of our public life and especially the media. This is something only high quality, well funded state education can fix.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Roger. I remember this. Here even project-based learning doesn’t mean the same. Thank you also for the links!
Even in better funded districts, science ed has been affected by the overselling of tech solutions. The kids are watching virtual labs rather than doing them. Even in kindergarten I experienced watching a teacher direct the children to get out their tablets to watch some video for science! There are so many easy, hands-on activities for young ages and no need for science being taught through a tablet.
Nancy Bailey says
Great point and we don’t know how that will turn out do we? I am not against some tech for science but there’s no proof it can replace a qualified creative teacher who knows how to relate. Thank you!