Criticism of NRC Science Education Framework reveals confusion about two K-12 science education goals

The criticism by MonolithIC 3D Inc. executive Ze’ev Wurman of the K-12 Science Education Framework released by the National Research Council reveals confusion about the parallel goals of K-12 science education in the US.  One of those goals is to ensure that every high school graduate is scientifically literate and capable of making informed choices about science and technology that citizens face every day, both as voters and – yes – consumers.  This is the goal that the Framework is intended to address.  That’s why the atomic nucleus – with its applications in energy generation and weapons technology – is included in the Framework, and quarks are not.  As Dr. Wurman notes, the Framework also does not include the application of “analytical mathematics” to science.  Dr. Wurman bemoans the fact that through the Framework “the nation effectively gives up on American students” and their potential for becoming “science discoverers and technology creators.”

But no experienced educator would argue that every high school graduate has the innate ability to be successful as a scientist or engineer.  Dr. Wurman’s concern that the US graduates only 70,000 engineers per year while our competitors in India and China are graduating a million should be addressed by an initiative separate from the science-for-all-students NRC framework.  We need to address the problem of 70% of engineering majors showing up at Florida Gulf Coast University unprepared for a first calculus course.  We need to make sure that when IB programs in Tallahassee and Fort Myers send students to the programs in physical science and engineering at the state’s universities that these students have strong backgrounds in physics.  We need to make sure that our best and brightest are STEM-ready, and that they haven’t cut themselves off from the most economically attractive professions in our new economy by means of a decision to stop taking math in 10th grade or a choice of a marine biology course over a physics course.

Instead of arguing that the “US Congress should step in” to scrap and rebuild the NRC Science Education Framework, Dr. Wurman should be proposing a separate national policy on preparing the nation’s best students for science and engineering careers.

Update (9:30 am):  Boston Globe blogger Jim Stergios (who is also Executive Director of Boston’s Pioneer Institute) posted a commentary reinforcing Wurman’s concerns.

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4 Responses to Criticism of NRC Science Education Framework reveals confusion about two K-12 science education goals

  1. Doc Carr says:

    Glad to see you articulate my criticism in such detail.

    I’d add that the 70% unprepared to start in calculus should be directed to a local CC, except that this exposes a problem that actually does originate at the national level, one that should concern Dr. Wurman because it hurts students who are motivated but not prepared to hit the ground running as a result of weak high schools or military service.

    Although we’ve never talked about it, I suspect you and I agree that students need to transfer “on time” within their degree program. For STEM, that means completing all of calculus and physics before the end of the sophomore year — which is also when you earn an AA degree and don’t have to worry about taking extra humanities or social science classes if you are in the beautifully articulated Florida system. But there is a problem.

    Federal rules designed to keep fly-by-night private colleges from ripping off students will not allow any financial aid to be used for “extra” classes. A STEM student who starts in college algebra (not at all unusual right now in Florida) meets the AA math requirement with FIVE math classes left before being “junior ready”. The 15 elective hours don’t cover 20 hours of math, let alone other “extra” science classes you should have before the end of your junior year. If you transfer without those classes you are off the “map” or “track” for the major, and face similar problems after you use up your next 60 hours at the university because you need to complete a 4-course math sequence (one class can be doubled up) before you can take core engineering classes.

    Proposals to have students pay more for excess hours will also have a negative impact on perfectly competent students who are in that 70% at FGCU and similarly under-prepared students who enter FSU (albeit at a lower rate). It will likely affect students at the CC level as well, but our tuition is lower so the impact is less.

    As I noted up top, both of these policies are of particular significance to returning vets who are many years out of high school and have a lot of catching up to do in math.

  2. Pingback: Science and engineering readiness leader Massachusetts looks overseas for competition « Bridge to Tomorrow

  3. Pingback: Boston Herald editorial: K-12 Science Education Framework is “bewildering” « Bridge to Tomorrow

  4. Pingback: An attack on the Common Core math standards in the NY Times « Bridge to Tomorrow

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