Grading States in the Biosciences

By Sean Cavanagh — May 18, 2009 1 min read
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States have a hit-or-miss record in covering bioscience topics in the curriculum, according to a new report issued by the biotechnology advocates. The report evaluates states based on a number of factors, from student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress science exam to how well they incorporate bioscience into their state standards to ensuring that biology teachers are well-qualified.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin are deemed “leaders of the pack” in bioscience ed by the authors. Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia have a “lagging performance” in that area, they argue.

The report was produced by three organizations: BIO, Battelle, and the Biotechnology Institute, who call it the “first-ever comprehensive study” of middle and high school bioscience education across the 50 states. Why do the biosciences matter? Here’s what they say:

Bioscience workers are needed to conduct research; translate innovation into product development and improved health care techniques; and, ultimately, to manufacture biomedical and other bioscience-related products. Thus, ensuring the availability of an educated, skilled workforce is critical to developing and sustaining a highly competitive, robust bioscience cluster over the long term. It is also critical for the American society that the public is well-informed about the promise and challenges of biotechnology. Recent national legislation on genetic testing is a harbinger of the complex issues that the biosciences will pose in the years ahead."

A couple figures that stand out from the report. The portion of biology teachers who are certified ranges from 50 percent to 100 percent in the states. Average state scores on the NAEP have declined from 1996 to 2005, among 12th graders.

Some schools and states, with the help of private industry have taken a growing interest in biotech topics in recent years. Earlier this year I wrote about an Alabama initiative supported by a couple of the scientists who were involved with the Human Genome Project. In New York, a number of school districts are partnering with local colleges to bring nanotechnology into the curriculum.

Have a look at the report, and make your own judgment. Are the authors evaluating states by the right criteria?

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