Science Preparation of Students, Teachers Is Debated
Cincinnati--Significant numbers of American high-school graduates lack the necessary preparation for college-level scientific studies, according to the National Survey on the Status of College Science Education, which was released here at the annual convention of the National Science Teachers Association.
In the survey of 873 biology, chemistry, physics, and earth-science instructors at two- and four-year colleges, 46 percent of the instructors at two-year colleges and 35 percent of the instructors at four-year colleges rated the preparation of their freshmen for college-level science courses as "poor" or "very poor."
Only 10 percent of the faculty members, who were polled in the 1983-84 school year, rated their students' preparation "excellent" or "good." About half of those polled rated science instruction at their institutions as "good."
"There appears to be not so much a crisis in science teaching at the college level as there is in precollege instruction," said Marjorie Gardner, president of the Society for College Science Teachers and co-chairman of next year's nsta convention.
The college instructors who were surveyed called for an increase in the quality of high-school instruction, according to Marvin Druger, professor of science education at6Syracuse University and president of the Association for the Education of Teachers of Science, who conducted the survey.
Ignorance and neglect of science in the nation's elementary and secondary schools and among members of the general public were issues that surfaced repeatedly at the 33rd annual convention late last month of the 20,000-member nsta, the nation's largest organization of science educators.
In an effort to address those concerns by raising the level of professionalism among science teachers, the nsta has proposed to issue rigorous standards for the certification of new science teachers. (See Education Week Feb. 20, 1985.) The standards, which were endorsed by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, are expected to be used in accrediting teacher-education programs beginning in 1986.
Different Standards Found
However, most of the current requirements for teacher-preparation programs fall short of the nsta standards, according to preliminary data from a survey of the 10 universities that graduate the largest number of science-education students.
The findings show, for example, that only two of the nine universities that have thus far responded to the survey require science-education majors to take a course in evolution, which would be a requirement under the new standards.
"The standards are specifying some classes in zoology, some in microbiology, and some in botany and some in evolution and so on, and the universities are not that specific in their requirements," said Rich Tolman of Brigham Young University, who, with Hugh Baird, is conducting the survey. "The universities are much more flexible, much more elective-oriented than the standards are."
A number of educators who attended the convention criticized the standards as too specific, too rigorous, and likely to increase specialization among educators and alienation among students who are not science-oriented.
"Ninety percent of our students in school today are not science-prone and they are basically not even literate in science," said Verlin Lee, professor of science education at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
"My biggest problem is to bring science majors in methods classes down to a plane where they feel like they can teach children pure science," Mr. Lee said. "It's very difficult for them to get away from their college laboratories and college professors and say, 'How am I going to teach that boy or girl in the 8th grade?"'
Conference participants who voiced complaints about the standards were urged to share their concerns with the nsta's teacher-education committee, which developed the standards.
"I'd be disappointed if that didn't happen," said William Ritz, chairman of the committee. "The standards need to be looked at, constantly revised, constantly refined to be truly representative of what nsta wants them to say."