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Science From Our Research Center

Chemistry Absent From 3 in 5 Secondary Schools, Analysis Finds

By Stephen Sawchuk — December 27, 2017 1 min read
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Fewer than half of the nation’s secondary schools offer a chemistry course, according to a new analysis from the Education Week Research Center.

The lack of chemistry dovetails with what appears to be increasing concern about the phenomenon of science and STEM “deserts,” or places where students have fewer opportunities to take classes in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

For the analysis, the Education Week Research Center analyzed results from the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights, which collects information on every U.S. school each two years. Here are three top takeaways for you.

1) There is a lot of variation in which states tend to offer chemistry.

Below, you’ll see the breakdown of secondary schools (defined here as schools with any grade between 7-12) lacking a chemistry class. Interestingly enough, the Great Plains states seem to offer more overall than states in the West or Northeast.

2) But more schools are offering chemistry now than before.

That’s good news, and presumably will fuel pressure to train more chemistry teachers. Here’s the comparision between the 2011-12 and 2013-14; note the increases in both grades. The increases in chemistry offerings are growing faster, though.


3) But there are persistent disparities in which students take chemistry.

African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students are less likely to take chemistry than white or Asian-American students, possibly due to an overall lack of access or to “tracking” of students to nonchemistry science courses once they’re in high school.

Not long ago, my predecessor Liana Loweus wrote about the similar phenomenon with physics, which many high schools don’t offer. She wrote that one of the major challenges was not being able to find enough trained teachers to cover all the classes. Readers, do you think that’s a problem with chemistry teachers, too? To what do you attribute these patterns? Comments section is open, and I’d love to follow up with you, too, at ssawchuk@epe.org.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.