September 21, 2022

More science, now or never

John Richard Schrock“/>
Jean-Richard Schrock


China has now overtaken the United States in the number of most-cited papers according to an annual survey of top-cited scientific research papers by Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy. This is the fourteenth major report from the past year documenting the decline of American scientific research papers, STEM doctorates, international patents, and other indicators of America’s former scientific supremacy. And now we’ve lost the top spot in most cited research.

Many of these reports express concern about the poor performance of U.S. K-12 students in math and science and their low numbers of college entrances to pursue STEM studies. They emphasize the need to increase the influx of foreign students to ensure future American advances in scientific research. Without foreign students, many American universities would have to close their physics, engineering, chemistry and other departments. But none have touched on our K-12 pipeline. In Singapore, China, and some other countries, half of their university students are pursuing STEM studies. But less than 18% of American students go on to graduate studies in STEM. If the United States is to have a future in science, our K-12 education systems governed by 47 state school boards 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 eleven states to require high school science teachers to major in biology, chemistry, physics, or earth science. The other 39 states certify or license poorly trained, barely qualified one-size-fits-all science teachers to teach middle school science. These states and DCs must transition to this in-depth instruction in each science discipline, immediately.

2. Training for these teachers must include at least 50 credit hours of actual on-site science instruction for biology teachers and 40 for chemistry, physics, or earth science teachers. Our disastrous remote learning experiences during the pandemic have provided clear evidence that only face-to-face classes with real hands-on lab and field work are acceptable for teachers and students.

3. Mathematics underpins the understanding of science, including students who do not pursue science careers. Algebra should begin to be taught in fourth grade, as is the case in Asia. Sciences with a strong mathematical component 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 comprehensive hands-on labs is essential for every student to understand their owner’s manual. This high school education requirement in Germany allowed citizens to self-refer to a specialist and reduced per capita healthcare costs to less than half the costs in the United States. Americans pay a heavy tax on stupidity.

5. At least 20% of the school day in middle school and high school must be devoted to science lessons. This recommendation from the late John Moore of UC-Riverside has long been ignored.

6. Elementary school teachers should be educated at universities with a minimum of 24 science credit hours that include basic introductory courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and earth sciences with laboratories, as well as classes with hands-on science activities for primary school students. Surveys have shown that many scientists developed their interest in science at primary school age. Currently, Chinese high school graduates are learning more science than today’s graduate American elementary science teachers.

7. Standardized state testing in science must end. Students are not standardized assembly line products; they enter school differently and should leave school differently. 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 should be made between fully qualified teachers and under-trained teachers, with a difference in remuneration that favors progression to higher competence.

There was a time in the 1800s when a primary education was enough. In the early 1900s, a secondary education became “necessary”. Life is improving through science and technology and the future will demand citizens who understand science even more. The Indian Nehru said that “the future belongs to countries that befriend science”. Without immediate and major changes to science education in the United States, that future is not ours.

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John Richard Schrock 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 “Emeritus Faculty” at Emporia State University.