Program in Educational Leadership
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Michael Ryan's article "Have Our Schools Heart the Wake-Up Call?" (1997) discusses one ramification of the US Department of Education's 1983 report, A Nation at Risk.. Several years after this report's release, the National Science Foundation (NSF) worked hard to create programs that would enable teachers to improve science instruction. The author's goal was to determine whether or not schools within the United States had "heard the wake-up call."
Science education in many of the American school systems has made marked levels of improvement. "New York City now has twice as many high school students taking science courses as in 1990. Vermont's teachers are giving up chunks of their summers to learn how to teach science better. Nationwide, more than 50% of all high school students completed a chemistry course, up from 30% a decade earlier." (Ryan, 1997, p.8)
Although these gains are commendable, Ryan found unresolved critical issues that we need to focus on. These are: 1) although "the NSF has a $100 million budget to improve science education programs, only 24 states and Puerto Rico have applied for funding." (p. 9)
2) Aid and scholarships given to aspiring scientists in the late 80s were given to only the "best and brightest--" namely white males. This meant that few students were spotlighted compared to a large number of students who were left behind. This could have been due to the fact that there was limited money available and the NSF decided that they would get more social good out of spending the money on the best and brightest, or this may have happened in order to support student outcome-based measurements which indicate that, historically, white males have made up the majority of the nation's achievers in the field of science.
* The NSF needs to more actively encourage all states to apply for and integrate funds into curriculum planning.
* Foundations, governmental and educational agencies need to approach science instruction as the portion of the day that is essential for every student and teacher regardless of race, gender, age and academic ability.
* Teachers should become students for a brief period of time-- receiving instruction on how to replace older methods of teaching with newer ways of actively involving their students in the learning process.
* An "updated" goal of instruction should be to equip students with the ability to learn to think and to be able to problem-solve creatively. This can happen by allowing students to explore by hands-on learning, asking questions, and by working in groups to find answers.
Ryan, M. (1997, January). Have our schools heard the wake-up call? Parade, pp. 8,9.