By Jennifer Beaudoin and David LevenePublishers Weekly/The Wall Street JournalA year after the US Supreme Court ruled that science teachers should be allowed to use public education dollars for classroom instruction, an industry group says it’s finally looking to find a new way to reach students.
Science teachers have long complained that public schools have failed to adequately prepare them for their work, and that schools and colleges have not been responsive to their needs.
The Association of Science Education Professionals (ASEP), an industry trade group, has called on education leaders to focus on improving science instruction, including creating more hands-on learning opportunities and improving teachers’ abilities to teach science.
In a report released Wednesday, ASEP called for a national science curriculum that “provides students with an immersive and meaningful science education experience that enables them to understand the universe and explore its diverse nature, as well as develop critical thinking skills that can help them learn from their own mistakes, and help them make decisions based on scientific evidence”.
As the US science curriculum has expanded to include more than 100 disciplines, the association estimates that about 10% of American students who took part in science-based learning in 2016 would now be in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers.
While there are about 30,000 teaching and technical programs in the US, only about 5,000 are certified by the National Science Teachers Association, which is part of the Association of Professional Teachers of Science and Engineering.
The National Science Board, which advises the president on science and technology education, does not require schools to have a science curriculum.
But ASEP has said it wants more schools to offer such a curriculum, and the group has launched an online survey of teachers in the field.
The survey found that about three-quarters of teachers who responded said that their science curricula were not ready for primary-school students, and nearly half said they had seen students take the first few months of a science-related course without understanding the material.
“We need to start thinking of how we can help teachers prepare students for the future and develop their skills, rather than relying on teachers to do it,” ASEP president Susanne Kallmann said in a statement.
Some states have been pushing to change the way science instruction is delivered in schools, and some states are now looking to charter schools to provide science instruction.
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASUC) last year proposed to set up a new science education professional association, the American Society for Applied Physics, to develop “a broad set of best practices and guidelines for education of physics, mathematics, and related disciplines” and “provide the foundation for a new generation of science education professionals”.
In the same year, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NASEP) also called for new standards to be established for teaching science in schools.NASEP’s board has been working to create new standards and guidance for science instruction for years, but has not yet released recommendations.
But the association is calling for the government to set national standards and standards to guide teacher preparation for science education, as is the case in other countries, such as Japan and Australia.
“Our job is to help schools make sure that students can understand and apply the science to solve problems, but they need to be prepared to be able to communicate it in a meaningful way,” said David Leighton, the group’s president.
“It’s not enough to just teach about how the world works, you have to be capable of explaining how science works in terms of how it relates to other sciences.”
Teachers have long warned that science education is not up to par with the needs of students, even though they now study more than 90% of the world’s published scientific research.
The US has a reputation for teaching a weak science curriculum, in part because the US government and private school system have been reluctant to fund more high-quality science instruction at public schools, said Julie Pimentel, an associate professor of science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
Many American children learn most of their science on iPads, and many US states now require that students take standardized tests, Pimentels said.
While the US has some of the lowest rates of college enrollment in the developed world, its public schools still offer an impressive amount of science instruction and, for students who choose to study in those schools, science is seen as an integral part of life.
“Students don’t have a sense of how to prepare for the sciences,” said Leighton.
“They learn about physics, they learn about biology, they go to chemistry, they do physics in their high school, but their understanding of biology is very poor.”