I’ve been thinking about the state of science education in the United States. A while back I wrote about improving our science education, and since that time nothing has changed. At least not as far as our federal government’s (and in Indiana, the state government’s) attitude towards science is concerned. For example, the U.S. is now the only country in the world which has officially denied climate change by our attempted withdrawal from the Paris Accords…A coal lobbyist is running the EPA…and the Department of the Interior is working to sell off land it’s supposed to protect.
Sadly, the state of science literacy in the United States has allowed many Americans to be unaware of what’s happening. Many Americans don’t really understand why they should be concerned.
It’s important that we improve science literacy in the U.S. But how?
TEACH THE COMMUNITY
How can we help improve science education in the community, state, and nation? Here are some ideas for parents, teachers, and concerned voters…
1. End the waste of our time and money on standardized tests and use the savings to pay for professional development for teachers teaching science, and for equipment and supplies to help them. Use the savings to pay for professional development and supplies for all teachers.
2. Make sure children come to school ready to learn. To that end, we need to spend dollars on countering the effects of poverty beginning with good prenatal care for every pregnant woman in the country. The U.S.A. is 56th in infant mortality rates behind countries like Latvia, Cuba, Canada, South Korea, and the U.K. Science has taught us what to do…we need to see to it that there is carry-over of scientific knowledge into the real world.
3. Work to counter the effects of poverty by investing in early childhood education in which children can explore themselves and the world. Our enrollment rates and expenditures on Early Childhood programs lag well below the OECD average.
4. Provide every child with a full and balanced curriculum,
…including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education.
5. Support students by lowering class sizes.
7. The relationship between poverty and achievement is well established, but instructional innovations, improvements, and support can’t overcome the effects of poverty alone. Students need support services to help ameliorate the effects of poverty. Services such as nurses, social workers, counselors, after-school programs, and transportation, should be available. The Chicago Teachers Union has developed a program, specific to Chicago schools, titles The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve 2.0. Many of the plans in this document are worth considering for other school systems.
8. Ensure that every school is staffed with fully-trained, professional educators and support staff.
9. Public schools should be controlled by elected school boards. Lack of transparency should not be an option.
10. The privatization of public education has increased school segregation. We know from research that desegregated schools narrowed racial and economic achievement gaps. It’s time to fulfill the requirement of Brown vs. Board of Education.
A PUBLIC RESPONSIBILITY
The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the expense of the people themselves. — John Adams
The preceding suggestions will cost money, and you might ask, “How can we afford that?” Ending the overuse and misuse of standardized testing will provide one source of income for schools to use. Ending the diversion of tax dollars for privatization will provide more, but that won’t cover everything. We have to choose to spend more money on our future citizens.
Instead of asking, “Can we afford that?” we should state, “We cannot afford not to fully fund public education.” The public schools quite literally, hold our future. For the well-being of our children and grandchildren, we must fully fund our schools.
FOR SCIENCE TEACHERS
Science teachers at all grades need to keep up with current information, especially in today’s anti-science atmosphere. The following are some ideas to help keep science teachers up to date on science topics. Others interested in science education can also benefit from these.
- Check out the Science Education Checklist on the National Science Teachers Association website. Compare what’s on that list with what’s available in your classroom or school.
- Do your part to help students (and their parents) understand the scientific method, to see science in everyday life, and to dispel myths and misconceptions about science (e.g. “evolution is just a ‘theory'”).
- Work with your colleagues to develop multi-disciplinary projects. Science can be found in history, geography, philosophy, physical education, the arts, and other subject areas.
- Invite scientists from local industry and academia into your classroom to explore ideas with your students.
- Be an advocate for science. Teach so that your students become as excited about science as you are. At a minimum, ensure that they are scientifically literate when they leave your class.
- Join scientific organizations to advocate for science education and to keep up with the latest news in your field…groups like
- Read about ways to improve science education in the U.S.
CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE
Reversing the anti-science direction of the country will take time and won’t be easy. We can do it if we focus on today’s students…tomorrow’s leaders.
“When you have an established, scientific, emergent truth, it is true whether or not you believe in it, and the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us.”