By JOHN RICHARD SCHROCK
China has now surpassed the United States in the number of most cited papers according to an annual survey of the most cited scientific research papers by Japan’s National Science and Technology Policy Institute. This is the fourteenth major report in the last year documenting declines in U.S. scientific research papers, STEM doctorates, international patents and other indicators of earlier American science excellence. And now we’ve lost the top spot in highly cited research.
Many of these reports express concern about the low performance of US K-12 students in math and science and the low number of them entering college to pursue STEM majors. They emphasize the need to increase the flow of foreign students to ensure future US advances in scientific research. Without foreign students, many American universities would have to close their physics, engineering, chemistry and other graduate departments. But none have addressed our K-12 pipeline. In Singapore, China and several other countries, half of their university students pursue STEM majors. But less than 18 percent of U.S. college students pursue a STEM degree as an undergraduate. If the U.S. is to have a future in science, our K-12 education systems governed by 47 state boards of education and four state superintendents of education must dramatically increase the quantity and quality of science education in our school curriculum. public.
1. Kansas is one of only eleven states that requires secondary science teachers to major in biology, chemistry, physics, or earth science. The other 39 states certify or license poorly trained, one-size-fits-all science teachers who are barely qualified to teach high school science. These states and DC must move to this in-depth education in every scientific discipline, immediately.
2. The training of these teachers must include at least 50 credit hours of real science field courses for biology teachers and 40 for chemistry, physics, or earth science teachers. Our disastrous experiences with distance learning during the pandemic provided clear evidence that only face-to-face courses with real, reality-based lab and field work are acceptable to teachers and students.
3. Mathematics underlies scientific understanding, including for students who do not pursue a science career. Algebra should start being taught in the fourth grade, as it is in Asia. Mathematical sciences such as physics can then be taught at the beginning of secondary school rather than waiting until the end.
4. A detailed high school human anatomy and physiology course with complete hands-on labs is essential for any student to understand their owner’s manual. This high school requirement in Germany has resulted in citizens being able to self-refer to a specialist and reducing per capita health care costs to less than half of those costs in the U.S. Americans pay a heavy stupidity tax.
5. A minimum of 20 percent of the school day in middle and high school must be spent in science classes. This recommendation from the late John Moore of UC-Riverside has long been ignored.
6. Elementary school teachers should be trained in universities with a minimum of 24 credit hours of science, which includes introductory biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science courses with laboratories, as well as courses with hands-on science activities for elementary students. Surveys have shown that many scientists develop their interest in science by elementary school age. China’s high school graduates currently teach more science than today’s college-educated US elementary science teachers.
7. State standardized testing in science must be completed. Students are not standardized assembly-line products; they enter school differently and must leave school differently. Professional teachers design and administer their assessments based on their unique student population.
8. Until a higher level of teacher training is achieved, a distinction should be made between qualified and undertrained teachers, with a pay differential that promotes the transition to higher competencies.
There was a time in the 1800s when a high school education was enough. In the early 1900s, a secondary education became “required”. Life improves thanks to science and technology, and the future will require citizens who understand science even more. India’s Nehru said that “the future belongs to countries that make friends with science”. Without immediate and sweeping changes in US science education, this future is not ours.
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John Richard Schrock has trained biology teachers for more than 30 years in Kansas. He has also lectured at 27 universities during 20 trips to China. He holds the Emeritus Faculty Award at Emporia State University.