By JOHN RICHARD SHROCK
China has already surpassed the United States in the number of most-cited papers, according to an annual survey of the most-cited scientific papers by Japan’s National Science and Technology Policy Institute. This is the fourteenth major report in the past year to document declines in US research, STEM PhDs, international patents and other indicators of America’s former science preeminence. 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 small number of them entering college to pursue STEM majors. They emphasize the need to increase the flow of international students to ensure future US research progress. Without international students, many US universities would have to close their physics, engineering, chemistry and other graduate departments. But no one has paid attention to our K–12 pipeline. In Singapore, China, and some other countries, half of their students pursue STEM majors. But less than 18 percent of American students pursue STEM majors as undergraduates. 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 education czars, must dramatically increase the quantity and quality of science education in our public school curriculum.
1. Kansas is one of only eleven states that require science teachers to major in biology, chemistry, physics, or earth sciences. The remaining 39 states certify or license poorly trained universal science teachers who are hardly qualified to teach middle school science. These states and DC should immediately move to this in-depth training in every scientific discipline.
2. The training of these teachers shall include at least 50 credit hours of actual field science courses for biology teachers and 40 for chemistry, physics, or earth science teachers. Our disastrous experience with distance learning during the pandemic provided clear evidence that only face-to-face coursework with real hands-on lab and field work is acceptable to teachers and students.
3. Mathematics is at the core of understanding science, including students who do not pursue science careers. Algebra should start being taught in fourth grade, as it is in Asia. Math-heavy sciences like physics can be taught at the beginning of high school instead of waiting until the end.
4. Detailed High School Human Anatomy and Physiology course with full hands-on exercises is essential for any student to understand the instruction 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 US costs. Americans pay a heavy tax stupidity.
5. A minimum of 20 percent of the middle and high school school day must be spent in science classes. This recommendation by the late John Moore of UC-Riverside has long been ignored.
6. Elementary teachers must be university-trained with a minimum of 24 credit hours in science, which includes basic introductory biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science courses with laboratory exercises, as well as hands-on science activities courses for elementary students. Studies show that many scientists develop their interest in science as early as elementary school age. China’s high school graduates currently study more science than today’s US elementary science teachers who graduated from college.
7. Standardized state science tests should be ended. Students are not standardized products off the assembly line; they enter school different and must leave school different. Professional teachers design and administer their own assessments based on their unique student populations.
8. Until a higher level of teacher training is achieved, a distinction must be made between fully qualified and undertrained teachers, with a pay gap that encourages the move to higher competence.
There was a time in the 1800s when primary education was sufficient. In the early 1900s, high school education became “required.” Life is improving thanks to science and technology, and the future will require citizens who understand even more science. India’s Nehru said that “the future belongs to countries that make friends with science.” Without immediate and major changes in US science education, this future is not ours.
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John Richard Schrock has trained biology teachers for over 30 years in Kansas. He has also lectured at 27 universities during 20 trips to China. He holds the distinction of “Faculty Emeritus” at Emporia State University.