Science Learning Past and Present

This report comes at a time when both science and science education are regular topics of national media attention and urgent policy debates. Scientists have used the discovery of DNA to help map the human genome, can prevent diseases like polio and rheumatic fever, and have landed probes on Mars. Today the scientific knowledge to see and manipulate atoms is available, whereas just 100 years ago people debated the existence of atomic matter. Major public policy issues, such as cloning, climate change, and alternative fuels, require a scientifically informed citizenry as never before. Underrepresentation of women and minorities in the sciences is a widely recognized problem of increasing concern amid policy debates about the adequacy of the nation’s scientific and technical workforce. Yet as scientific knowledge develops and grows, as new scientific tools and technologies emerge and work their way further into civic life, there is grave concern and debates about the quality of science education.

After 15 years of focused standards-based reform, improvements in U.S. science education are modest at best. International comparisons show that many U.S. students fare poorly relative to their peers in other countries. In addition, large achievement gaps between majority students and both economically disadvantaged and non-Asian minority students persist in all school subjects, and they are especially strong and persistent in science (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000, 2003). These trends in achievement take on even greater significance with the looming deadline in the No Child Left Behind legislation, which mandates state-level assessments in science beginning in the 2007-2008 school year. Meanwhile, state and local school boards around the country, backed by large numbers of citizens, are em-

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