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Improving Science Teaching in America's Schools

Publication Date: 2009-07-05

Here is an excerpt of a review of Science Teaching as a Profession: Why It Isn't, How It Could Be, a free online book. See hotlink below. The full review is available at Huffington Post, June 9, 2009.

Note that what science teachers want, every teacher should have: autonomy, control, and stature. They definitely don't want scripts, timetables, and high stakes tests.

. . . In a fascinating new book by noted education writer Sheila Tobias and veteran science teacher Anne Baffert, entitled Science Teaching as a Profession: Why It Isn't, How It Could Be [pdf file], the authors make a startling discovery. Based on their communications with nearly 500 science teachers across the United States over the past two years, they found that attrition by U.S. high-school science teachers is not primarily a function of money. More pressing are concerns about loss of autonomy, control, and stature.

Among their key findings are the following:

  • Science teachers want more autonomy over how and what they teach, including the sequencing of specific topic areas and the selection of textbooks. Great teaching is intensely personal; the less the teaching can be personalized the less impactful it is.

  • Science teachers want more control in terms of the extent to which they are allowed to teach in their own area of specialty (biology vs. physics, for instance) and are able to influence school policy by participating in policy deliberations. They are also concerned about the loss of control over student assessment. Such assessment used to be the prerogative of teachers; increasingly it is too much determined by student performance in "high-stakes testing."

  • Science teachers want to be considered professionals - appreciated for their expertise; trusted for their judgment; valued by school administrators and society more broadly.

  • The authors' recommendations for action include the following:

  • Provide science teachers with greater autonomy and hold them accountable for their overall performance on multiple measures, not just their students' one-time evaluation on high-stakes tests. That's what's expected of professionals in other fields.

  • Don't link a teacher's performance only to student performance on standardized tests. There's more to a great teacher than that.

  • Include science teachers or chairs of science departments in school and district decision-making.

  • Link high-school science teachers with working scientists, including college-level science professors, through summer jobs in research labs and other connections. Those linkages enhance the sense of professionalism, while providing additional experience, learning, and income as well.

  • Science Teaching as a Profession [pdf file], published by Research Corporation Books, is available for downloading free of charge at http://www.rescorp.org. It deserves to be carefully read and discussed.

    With the emphasis that President Obama has rightly placed on science, it is now incumbent upon Americans to insist that science teaching be upgraded as well.

    James M. Gentile, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Research Corporation for Science Advancement, America's second-oldest foundation.

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