New scientific discoveries are made every day. Technology is an ever-present force in almost every American’s life. In schools, there's a very vocal push for STEM education, to make sure that the United States stays competitive with other nations in producing computer scientists and engineers. With all of this, it would be very reasonable to assume that science education is in a great state. This, however, is not the case. The importance of science is overlooked by almost all of the parties who have influence over it. Compared to other classes, especially English and math, science is hugely under prioritized.
One major hurdle towards STEM success is that the standardized tests that often decide kids’ futures basically don’t care about science. For example, the SAT has eighty minutes devoted to math and between one-hundred and one-hundred-forty minutes devoted to English, depending on whether or not students take an optional essay, and zero minutes devoted to science, although recently, there was a slight push to include questions relevant to science in the English and math sections. The ACT has sixty minutes devoted to math, either eighty or one-hundred-twenty minutes devoted to English, depending on whether or not students take an optional essay. and only thirty-five minutes for science. These tests are so important to students that high school curriculums are often based around helping kids do well on these specific tests. As these tests are mostly lacking science, students and educators have very limited motivation to learn and teach about science, respectively. Additionally, science SAT subject tests are nowhere near as as ubiquitous as the traditional SAT is. If learning science has such limited relevance to college acceptance, schools will always prioritize the avenues of education that send their students to college. Therefore, science takes a backseat to reading and math.
Costliness is another significant issue. Science education, in its most effectively educational form, is more expensive than math or English education. Science education is most effective when peppered with laboratory experimentation. Researchers at Penn State found that “...school laboratory activities have special potential as media for learning that can promote important science learning outcomes for students [sic].” However, “construction costs can reach $150 to $200 per square foot [for school laboratories], according to Motz and other experts, an especially daunting proposition, considering that NSTA recommends 1,440 square feet for a lab serving 24 students. Adding laboratory furniture and cabinets can cost another $25,000 to $60,000 per room.” This is because laboratories require advanced equipments, materials, and types of major upkeep that reading and math classrooms don’t need, because of the nature of science. Chemistry classes require expensive chemicals; biology classes require specimens; physics classes require models and modelling materials. Scientists barely receive enough funding to run a lab; schools certainly don’t. Since science is more difficult to fund than other classes, science is rarely taught properly.
Even the government is out to get science. In 2002, there was a law passed called the “No Child Left Behind” Act (NCLB). NCLB makes schools enforce standardized testing, and schools that fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on these tests for enough years consecutively suffer harsh consequences. AYP is just an average improvement over their previous year’s cores. Much like the SAT/ACT, NCLB places a testing emphasis on English, specifically reading, in this case, and math. “No Child Left Behind requires that… each state must measure every child's progress in reading and math in each of grades 3 through 8 and at least once during grades 10 through 12… states must also have in place science assessments to be administered at least once during grades 3-5; grades 6-9; and grades 10-12.” This means that K-12 students are to be tested on math and reading seven times each and science only thrice. Even more importantly, however, is this: “Science is not included in AYP calculations.” Because of this, the three times they are tested on science won’t affect their schools’ AYP, and won’t cause their schools to suffer or not suffer. Teachers don’t have the motivation to prioritize science at all when the federal government practically punishes them for teaching anything but ELA and math.
The College Board and whoever designs the ACT spit on science by ignoring it and removing the motivation to teach and to learn it. State governments spit on science by refusing to create budgets that will allow teachers to properly teach it. Finally, the federal government spits on science by passing laws that force teachers to emphasize ELA and math over science to a huge degree. Science education isn’t just about school, as anyone who might stop to think about it would realize; it’s about the safety of American innovation and the health of the populace. Science education promotes the advancement of medical and technological sciences, which are integral to a continually growing society. The powers that be all have the ability to change their rules, their allotment of money, and their allotment of test space, but since NCLB was introduced, science education has been on an apparent downward spiral towards technological and medical illiteracy.
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