Saturday, April 17, 2010


Students Don't Learn More Science Under Chicago Public Schools
College-Prep-for-All Policy
Get the report at:

THE University of Chicago education newspiece was interesting, but not surprising. What I have to say isnothing really new, nor is it specific only to the sciences, but I've long felt that the problem lies in the way sciences are taught -- and I'm guilty as charged, in my own educational practice. In my experience, science tends to be taught like a language (and not even good language-teaching), flooding the students with a wealth of vocabulary, concepts and factoids, which are illustrated with examples, supplemented with cookbook labs and enriched with "projects." This type of science education becomes even more pronounced when we are forced to teach to tests. I did this for much of the decade I taught high school science, and have continued in this mode as an adjunct for most of the past decade, in both cases with exceptions I will mention.

This is not science education, and it is not science. In fact, it is the antithesis of science. To me, science is about creative inquiry into the laws of motion of the natural world. At least, that's why I decided to do graduate work in biology. But, if the powers that be were really interested in teaching SCIENCE, that's how courses, from the most basic on up, would be designed. Labs wouldn't be add-ons, rather, courses would be built around practical and real inquiry. This obviously wouldn't work with a one-size fits all, standardized curriculum.

I had the opportunity to work with undergraduate and high school interns in my lab at the museum of natural history. In just a few weeks over the summer -- for the undergrads -- or a semester -- for the high school kids -- students gained a depth of understanding of those concepts that I had never achieved in a classroom. More importantly, they were fired up, taking initiative and actively asking questions and following leads.

This type of science education is not for everyone. Presumably most students (most of us) are not particularly interested in scientific research, although I believe all students should be required to experience one course of this type. But most people are interested in science insofar as it touches their lives in other ways. Health, the environment, literature, art, social concerns. So, for me, the other way to teach science is also based on inquiry, but contextualized. Here, the parallel with learning a language the RIGHT way is striking: Freire's praxis -- "reading the word to read and change the world."

Perhaps the classroom course I taught in which high school students achieved the greatest sophistication of understanding of such basic scientific concepts as pH, natural cycles, food chains, etc., was a semester-long class on environmental health/racism that the students and I thrashed out together. The focus of the class was a medical waste incinerator in the South Bronx, where most of the students lived.

Another illustrative experience was an HIV/AIDS peer-education group we started at Seward Park High School, when I was HIV/AIDS coordinator (when such things were allowed to exist). In this case, not only was the subject up close and personal for many of the students, but they were the teachers. One student in the group, Luis, was the oldest of five siblings in a family in which his mom was the only caregiver, and she was dying of AIDS. Luis was the recognized leader of the group and the best educator. And, he went on to study cell biology.

If ObamaDuncanBloombergKlein want to promote the sciences, they'd better rethink their entire educational paradigm, from the bottom-up. But, of course they want to promote the sciences only for some, while continuing to mystify them -- and their practitioners -- for the masses.

Michael Friedman, Ph.D.
City University of New York

Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics
American Museum of Natural History
79th Street and Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Office: 212-313-8721
Cell: 718-812-4246


Research concludes that students don't learn more science under Chicago Public Schools College-Prep-for-All Policy

March 15, 2010

A Chicago Public Schools policy that dramatically increased science requirements did not help students learn more science and actually may have hurt their college prospects, according to a new report from the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago.

The science policy was part of a larger CPS initiative to expose all students to a college–preparatory curriculum by increasing course requirements across a range of subjects.

Though CPS high school students took and passed more college–prep science courses under the new policy, overall performance in science classes did not improve, with five of every six students earning Cs or lower. College-going rates declined significantly among graduates with a B average or better in science, and they dipped for all students when researchers controlled for changes in student characteristics over time.

The report, "Passing Through Science: The Effects of Raising Graduation Requirements in Science on Course–taking and Academic Achievement in Chicago," has significant implications for districts across the country considering requiring a college–preparatory curriculum for all students. In 2009, 21 states required all students to take four years of math and a minimum of three years of science to graduate high school. These policies were a response to long–running concerns that American students are falling behind their peers on international tests, particularly in math and science. Most recently, President Obama announced a major new public–private initiative designed to increase student engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

CPS was at the forefront of the movement to require a college–preparatory science curriculum for all. In 1997, CPS mandated that all incoming ninth–graders take three years of college–preparatory science coursework. This policy change occurred several years before many states raised their science requirements and eight years before the state of Illinois instituted a more modest increase.

To examine the effect of the policy change, the CCSR report compares academic outcomes for cohorts of students in Chicago before and after the 1997 policy switch. 

Key findings from the report include:

* The new curriculum policy ended low expectations for science coursework. Two years before the policy change, less than half of CPS graduates passed three or more college–prep science courses; most did not complete more than one. Immediately after the change, almost all graduates passed at least three full–year science classes.
* Most graduates received a C average or lower in science, which was similar to the performance of graduates before the policy change.
* Because of policy's structure, students were less likely after the policy to take both physics and chemistry, a combination that is common for students aspiring to college nationally.
* Graduation rates declined by four percentage points in the first year of the policy and another percentage point in the next year, after accounting for changes in the backgrounds and prior achievement of students entering CPS high schools.
* College enrollment did not increase under the new policy; nor did college persistence (students were no more likely to stay in college for at least two years).

Get the report at:

1 comment:

  1. I also support the idea that they have to change their attitude towards science teaching at school. Probably students will not agree with me because their main concerns are about tests now and entering university and they need other knowledge. But as a graduate student, I would like to say that you can get any paper from a British Essay Writer , and, probably you will never need such skills in future or just will learn how to write this or that report. But, if you have a narrow outlook, it is a great problem and it is very difficult to change.