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.