"The future belongs to those countries that make friends with science." This famous quote from India’s first Prime Minister Nehru recognizes science is central to improving the human condition and eliminating poverty. But for the past 25 years, American education policy has promoted "less science, not more." Below are the steps the United States needs to take immediately if we are to stop our slide toward science stupidity and second world status.
The amount of science coursework in K-12 education must expand from 5 to 20 percent of the school day. Other subjects do not need to be cut. Our school day and year are expanding; the educational "pie" is getting bigger.
Expanding course time on science is irrelevant unless we increase the number of very-well-educated science teachers. Our current pool is not adequate for our current anemic curriculum. We need five times more science teachers than we produce today. And we must attract the best into teaching.
That will only occur when we allow professional science teachers to conduct their own internal testing. Teaching-to-the-test has distorted science coursework away from the creative investigations that made our earlier science education world class.
Secondary teachers must be trained in depth in the unique discipline they teach: biology, chemistry, physics or earth science. Kansas is one of only 12 states with specialized teachers. Other states hire shallow one-size-fits-all "science teachers" who have but a few courses in each field. Those 38 states must move to in-depth training immediately. You can’t teach what you don’t know. Secondary teachers must understand their science at a level deeper than they teach, so they can get the science correct and so they can carry our advanced students deeper.
Secondary teacher training in sciences must move out of schools of education and into university science departments. Education Schools shortchange science content and add ever-changing education methodologies. Science departments have a solid curriculum. Ed Schools do not.
Requirements for being a science teacher should be no less rigorous than for science students entering research or professional fields. If a science department is not willing to value and supervise their student teachers with the same concern as their professional and research students, that university should not produce science teachers.
Science is reality-based. The "no online science courses or labs accepted" policy of a growing number of doctoral science programs must extend to science teacher preparation. The ability to operate the CSI-type molecular laboratory equipment or conduct dissection is not developed by cyber-simulations. This is evident to anyone with commonsense.
We do not train medical doctors through part time programs-of-convenience nor can we educate science teachers in their "off hours." Getting a quality education is a full-time job.
Ongoing professional development is critical in our rapidly-developing sciences. Today, most bonafide professional development for science teachers has been subverted by online workshops of little value. Science teacher updating must occur in university labs.
We must begin to place science teaching specialists in the lowest elementary grades, similar to the United Kingdom. Most creative scientists are "hooked" on science by the age of 10 through hands-on exploration with cow eye-balls and other exciting experiences.
Expanding the K-12 science curriculum fourfold is for every future citizen’s science literacy. Every child must study animals and plants so that study of ecology is not shallow environmentalism. Every child may not become a physician but every one of them will become a patient. Our high health care costs and unreal jury decisions constitute "ignorance tax" we cannot continue to afford.
But we must go beyond the "science for all Americans" attitude of only training for literacy and provide advanced sciences for the 20 percent of secondary students who are ready and eager to pursue advanced science beyond literacy.
And America has no science future if we do not immediately convert to the metric system, not only teaching direct metric measurement in schools, but also ceasing the use of non-metric is society at large — today! Anyone who has lived overseas knows all of us can adapt to metric within a week. If we continue to keep our students speaking a foreign language in measurement, we will forever be dependent on foreign engineers, foreign physicists, and foreign chemists.
The need to increase science in the American K-12 classroom from 5 to 20 percent was first voiced by the late Dr. John Moore of UC-Riverside twenty years ago. Instead, we have allowed educationists to continue to move us to "less science, not more." Should our 25-years of "less science" continue, our ability to shore up our science infrastructure with foreign-trained scientists will not continue.
The future belongs to countries that make friends with science. If we continue our current route, America will not have a future.