Skipping Science Class, Yet Again

In 2005, I posted skipping science class, about some disturbing trends in UK science education, and in 2008, I posted an update under the title skipping science class, continued.

Concerns about the state of science education are not limited to the UK. Today, Stuart Schneiderman cites a DOE study on science education in America. He cites Forbes writer Maureen Henderson, who comments on the study:

For example, 75% of high school seniors could successfully use test strips to test water samples for the levels of four pollutants, record the data and interpret whether the results exceeded EPA standards, but only 25% of students were able to design and conduct an investigation using a simulated calorimeter and related patterns in temperature changes in two different metals to determine which metal has the higher specific heat capacity. Results were the same at the lower grade levels, where only 24% and 35% of eighth and fourth graders respectively were able to handle the more difficult experiments. Students also had difficulty in explaining how they arrived at a correct conclusion, with only 27% of twelfth graders able to both select a correct answer and explain why they did so in one section of the test. And in another section, only 11% were able to make a final recommendation that was supported by the data they had worked with in the experiment.

Note that a lot of the test questions, and I’m sure a lot of the topics covered in school “science” courses, have to do with environmental matters.

Basically, it seems that in the American government schools, as in their British equivalents, all subjects whatsoever tend to get converted into “social studies.”

4 thoughts on “Skipping Science Class, Yet Again”

  1. David, I think it’s worse than just indoctrination in PC approved topics – I suspect that’s actually secondary. The primary purpose is to prevent the students from understanding how science actually works, and thus make it easier to use junk science to justify Leftist policies.

  2. I doubt that preventing true scientific understanding is (usually) to CONSCIOUS goal, but it is certainly often the effect.

    One apparent trend I don’t like is the use of computer simulation to replace actual experiments. This goes against the most fundamental point of modern science: you can always see for yourself. Believing something is true because a black-box model says so is conceptually no different from believing that heavier objects fall faster than light objects because that’s what Aristotle said.

    I think there *is* a role for simulation in science education, but the models should be (a) transparent, and (b) compared with actual empirical results.

  3. Another possibility: The French come to mind – training for the bureaucracy. Bureaucrats must be trained somehow, and since (channeling my inner von Mises) non-arbitrary government must be administered by a bureaucratic method, where could be a better place to train them than in the public schools? Unfortunately, the reach of government is so pervasive, and the bureaucratic method gets introduced into businesses of a certain size and lack of imagination, a large number of possible futures for the young is within some bureaucratic organization. With a proper sense of civics, morality, and [dare I use the word] humanity, a bureaucrat may respectably fulfill his role, as demanded by society/civilisation. Without these traits, a bureaucrat is more likely to become tyrannical.

    Given the imagination of the bureaucracy in charge of the public education system, it is no surprise to see that they fail even at providing basic bureaucratic training. That’s the way bureaucracies work – the Peter Principle, right?

  4. NCLB has greatly reduced instructional time allotted to science in public schools.

    The intent of the law was to raise the test scores (and presumably their skills)of the two bottom quartiles of students who are disproportionately poor and minority in math and reading and narrow the gap with the upper two quartiles (disproportionately white, Asian and middle-class) by relentlessly drilling on basic skills. The bottom would get the extra practice they require and the top would be held back from progressing by having their time in school wasted with remedial instruction they did not need. Schools and districts not showing adequate yearly progress would face harsh sanctions, so science, history, extended reading in literature all was cut back to increase time for skill-drill in two subject areas.

    This system has been changed by the Obama administration to something called “Race to the Top”. Since NCLB was designed so that 100% of all schools and districts would eventually be rated “failing” even if it was only one child who did not pass one test, a state can get waivers from sanctions only by agreeing to follow policy directives from the Federal Department of Education. Right now, the main directive is that states adopt the Common Core curriculum and tie teacher evaluations to student test scores in reading and math (how a PE or French teacher’s effectiveness can be determined by student scores in math has yet to be explained by Arne Duncan).

    The good news is, common core is not nearly as hostile to history, science or bright students as was NCLB and that there is genuine focus on reading difficult non-fiction material (primary source docs and technical-scientific explanations). It rises above basic grammatical skills and requires students to be able to apply learning and (in a very narrow sense only) analyze. The bad news is that basically, the Feds have grabbed total control of public schools in 45 states and the dude who wrote the common core (David Coleman) is now in charge of academics for the SAT/AP/College Boards testing services where he is going to re-write those gateway tests to reflect the common core.

    So even if you homeschool, send your kids to a charter, private or parochial school, you will have to follow the common core too if you want your kids to have a shot of getting into a good university (unless you are an Ivy League alum).

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