Vermonters for Better Education
Return to Index | Vermonters for Better Education Homepage
(March 20, 1999) Nearly a decade ago, a nationwide alarm sounded to tell us that the United States had slipped from its position as world leader in science, math and technology. Statewide public meetings, controlled and led by the education establishment, sprang up to seek the public's wishes. An aroused bureaucracy promised a vigorous new agenda to put U.S. science and math programs back into first place.
Now, after a decade of bureaucratic double-talk, the expenditure of tons of money, and a stream of unsuccessful palliatives, the future looks no different from the past. Efforts to "reform" science and math education now seem about to sputter out all over the nation.
What happened? The education establishment nationwide has maneuvered skillfully to retain control of every aspect of any "reform" effort, whatever the cost, just as it did since the days of "WHY JOHNNY CAN'T READ." Scholars in science and math have been chased away in favor of politicians, executives, and prominent citizens of modest scholarship.
All "reform" efforts in Vermont should have been aimed at two vital changes (1) raising the qualifications of teachers of science and math, and (2) reshaping the curricula for these two vital subjects K through 12. Neither of these objectives has been accomplished, or even attempted. Although the Vermont Department of Education has the power to pursue these objectives, it apparently had no plan or desire to do so.
As a career scientist I will aim most of my comments toward science.
Most elementary-level teachers have no credits in science and many science teachers at higher levels have no degree in science. The education bureaucracy endorsed and even nurtured this condition by failing to move toward first-rate science education for all Vermont teachers. Without their basic needs answered how can teachers possibly teach science effectively? The answer is clear: they cannot.
I hasten to point out that the fault for this shortcoming lies not with the teachers, but with colleges of education that train teachers and the local education establishments that hold all the controls. They bar the door to new ideas and outsiders who might appear to threaten that control.
Teachers with inadequate science backgrounds depend heavily upon two "aids": (1) science textbooks, and (2) in-service training programs taught by local "master teachers." Unfortunately, both of these mechanisms are deeply flawed.
Science textbooks, especially at elementary level, are notoriously inadequate in content and accuracy. Not written by scientists or science scholars, but usually by teachers or ex-teachers with inadequate training in science, such textbooks are not helpful to either students or their teachers.
In-service training in science is often inadequate because of the uncertain science skills of the "master teachers" who teach them. Curriculum specialists and similar resources may be of little help, because they may not have a knowledge of science sufficient to keep up with needed additions or changes to curriculum.
These built-in deficiencies greatly endanger the quality of science taught under the education establishment. With inadequate teaching, imperfect curricula and poor textbooks coming at them from all directions, our students have a small chance of acquiring a quality education in science.
Vermonters need to look hard at the recent expensive and unproductive decade in which very little reform of education was produced. It appears to be time to do away with incompetence and power politics. We need the freedom to seek first class performance in all aspects of education, especially the vital necessities of science and mathematics. The future of both our state and our nation depends upon the quality of the education we give our children.
Norman F. Smith
810 Wake Robin Drive
Shelburne, VT 05482