Saturday, May 27, 2006

On Teaching Science

The New York Times Editorial Observer has published some very interesting observations about why American Higher Education fails to produce more scientists. I can't help but think that the conclusions apply to secondary education as well.

The rabid legislators who concocted and condone the NCLB practice of anxiety, stress, and memorization are doing our children and society harm. They need to be voted out of office as soon as possible. And the institutions like the Department of Education both at the Federal and State levels are failed experiments as well.

These institutions should be decommissioned as soon as possible. The Bush administration has turned them into ugly, dogmatic, and cruel institutions meant to cause harm instead of serve the interests of children.

In the following excerpt you will note that learning is best performed as teamwork [something discouraged by high-stakes testing schemes] and that students are encouraged to stay until they learn the basics even if their grade is a 'C'.

There is no excuse for teachers, administrators, elected officials or anyone with a semblence of intelligence to continue to entertain the NCLB paradigm.

Read on, and take action.

Why American College Students Hate Science By BRENT STAPLES, Published: May 25, 2006

Science education in this country faces two serious problems. The first is that too few Americans perform at the highest level in science, compared with our competitors abroad. The second problem is that large numbers of aspiring science majors, perhaps as many as half, are turned off by unimaginative teaching and migrate to other disciplines before graduating.

The new students are welcomed into a well-established community of scientists and scientists-to-be through a summer program that sets the stage for the next four years.

The students are encouraged to study in groups and taught to solve complex problems collectively, as teams of scientists do. Most important, they are quickly exposed to cutting-edge science in laboratory settings, which demystifies the profession and gives them early access to work that often leads to early publication in scientific journals. At the same time, however, the students are pushed to perform at the highest level. Those who earn C's, for example, are encouraged to repeat those courses so they can master basic concepts before moving on.

The laboratory approach keeps the students excited and prevents them from drifting off into less challenging disciplines. Indeed, according to Science, 86 percent of the Meyerhoff participants have graduated with science or engineering degrees. Nearly 9 in 10 of those graduates went on to graduate or professional programs, with a significant number earning M.D.'s or Ph.D's, or both.

Critics have sometimes accused the Meyerhoff program of cherry-picking bright students who would perform spectacularly well wherever they went to school. But the numbers suggest that the school's instructional strategy makes a real difference. Meyerhoff students are twice as likely to earn undergraduate degrees in science or engineering as similar students who declined the scholarships and went to school elsewhere. Most significantly, students who completed the Meyerhoff program are 5.3 times as likely to enroll in graduate study as the students who said no and went elsewhere.

The higher education establishment is generally startled to learn that more than half of the high-flying Meyerhoff students are black. This surprise stems from the unstated but nonetheless well-established belief that high-performing science students don't actually exist in the black community.

U.M.B.C.'s president, Freeman Hrabowski III, knows better. He has spent years expanding his school's access to high-performing minority students and has taken great pains to reassure black families that their children will be well looked after on his campus.

It has long been known that teachers' low expectations, particularly those related to race and racism, can depress student performance. At U.M.B.C., sustained success by minority students seems to have alleviated this poisonous problem. Faculty members who once looked askance when asked to take on minority students in their laboratories now clamor for them.

Off campus, meanwhile, the students are much sought after as research assistants and as candidates for summer internships. Those who finish their education and take their places in the ranks of researchers and professors often become powerful proselytizers for science.

The Meyerhoff model shows that a vibrant, well-structured science program can produce large numbers of students who excel and remain in the field. It has also debunked the myth that academic excellence and minority access are mutually exclusive goals.

Is Hartford listening? Is Connecticut listening? Is Washington listening? Can we finally get rid of the incipid representation in Washington that spends our tax dollars on dogmatic nonsense instead of learning?

C'mon, people, work with me here.

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