The Worrying State of Science Education

Timeline: Important dates in U.S. science education history

 

 

1956

The College Board introduces college-level science courses for advanced high-school students: AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Physics B/C (which become AP Physics B and AP Physics C in 1969).

Sputnik

1957

The Soviet Union launches the first satellite, Sputnik I, into orbit.

1958

In response, Congress passes the National Defense Education Act, which provides $887 million to boost science education, including doubling funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency that supports research, teacher training and curriculum development.

1958

With NSF backing, curriculum development projects that produce the new textbooks and teaching methods used in the 1960s and ’70s take off, including the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, CHEM Study, the Physical Science Study Committee at MIT and Harvard Project Physics.

1959

NSF funds its first summer training institutes for elementary educators and increases the number of institutes for high school teachers.

1968

Supreme Court rules in Epperson v. Arkansas that barring the teaching of evolution is unconstitutional, striking down an Arkansas state law.

1969

Apollo 11 lands on the moon, ending the Space Race and inspiring many to pursue careers in science.

 

 

1969/1970

The first National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam tests what American students nationwide know about science and other subjects. NAEP begins testing science knowledge at the state level in 1996.

1970

Physics for Poets, a college textbook that explains physics to non-science majors without using math, is published.

1970

President Nixon signs the National Environmental Education Act, which creates the Office of Environmental Education to provide grants for curriculum development and teacher training. The office is eliminated by Congress in the 1980s, but revived and relocated to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1990.

1975

Congress creates the U.S. Metric Board to promote voluntary adoption of the metric system of measurement, used in science classrooms but not in daily American life. The public resists, and an opportunity to demystify science slips away when the board disbands in 1982.

 

 

1980

321 Contact,” the first science television show for kids funded by the federal government, airs on PBS, featuring a disco theme song and cameo appearances by a young Sarah Jessica Parker.

1982

President Reagan’s fiscal year 1982 budget slashes funding for the National Science Foundation by 70 percent, eliminating all NSF support for K-12 science initiatives, including teacher institutes and curriculum development.

1983

The National Commission on Excellence in Education issues a wake-up call to the American public with its Nation at Risk report, charging that U.S. schools are failing to prepare students to compete globally.

1983

President Ronald Reagan in 1983

President Reagan restores some NSF funding for K-12 science programs and creates the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, which gives out $10,000 prizes to the nation’s 100 top math and science teachers each year.

1985

The American Association for the Advancement of Science launches Project 2061, a math and science reform group that defines scientific literacy in its reports “Science for All Americans” and “Benchmarks for Science Literacy.”

1986

NASA suspends its “Teacher in Space” program after high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, a crewmember on the Space Shuttle Challenger, dies when the craft explodes shortly after launch. The program is never revived, although McAuliffe’s backup, Barbara Morgan, leaves elementary teaching and becomes an astronaut, flying on a mission in 2007.

1987

The Science Education for Public Understanding Program (SEPUP), based at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California-Berkeley, starts developing hands-on, inquiry-based curricula that explore societal issues like food safety and water pollution to make science more engaging.

1985

Florida passes a law allowing students to opt out of dissecting animals in science class. Fourteen more states have since passed similar laws, board of education policies or state resolutions, spawning a cottage industry in virtual dissection technology.

 

 

1990

The “Physics First” movement begins to grow, as teachers and scientists push to teach physics rather than biology in ninth grade to allow more advanced study of biology and chemistry in subsequent years.

1996

The National Research Council produces the National Science Education Standards, a set of goals for teaching, student knowledge and assessment.

1998

Fun in the lab becomes more lucrative when Intel Corp. begins sponsoring the Science Talent Search, the United States’ oldest pre-college science competition, offering $1.25 million in awards, and Siemens AG creates the Siemens Competition, which awards scholarships of $1,000 to $100,000.

1998

The College Board introduces AP Environmental Science.

1999

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley creates the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, led by former U.S. Senator and astronaut John Glenn, to look into strategies to improve mathematics and science teaching. The Commission’s 2000 report, “Before It’s Too Late,” says bonuses and higher salaries are needed to attract more science teachers.

 

 

2000

CBS television series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” sparks interest in forensic science careers and DNA testing.

2001

President George W. Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind Act.

The No Child Left Behind Act takes the focus off science education as teachers scramble to boost scores on math and reading tests.

2005

A federal district court rules that the Dover, Pa., school board cannot require teachers to present “intelligent design” as an alternative to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in high school biology classes because the school district’s promotion of intelligent design violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

2007

The National Academies’ report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” argues that strengthening science and math education is essential if the U.S. is to remain prosperous in the 21st century.

2007

Congress responds to the National Academies’ report with the America COMPETES Act, which authorizes funding for a variety of new programs to improve K-12 science and math education. However, many of the programs go unfunded, in whole or in part.

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