Recently NPR reported that American parents do not believe that science and technology classes in schools are providing adequate preparation to compete for high tech jobs in the global workforce.  This was the outcome of a poll conducted by NPR along with the he Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Nearly one-quarter of all parents said their child’s school today doesn’t put enough emphasis on science curricula. And 30 percent of parents with children in kindergarten up through fifth grade say there’s too little emphasis on science and technology.

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“We want to see these kids get excited about science and math. We’re lagging!” says Elizabeth Hall, one poll respondent and a mother of two who lives in California’s sprawling central valley north of Fresno.

Hall says her state has created a culture of testing that has resulted in high rates of teacher burnout and low expectations. Her community, she laments, has made peace with academic mediocrity in the sciences.

Science and Technology – Just Another Class?

One of Hall’s daughters, a high school sophomore, is so frustrated and underwhelmed by her district’s biology and chemistry classes that she is reconsidering her once-strong desire to train for a medical career.

“There’s no enthusiasm from the teachers. There’s no love of science. There’s no showing these young people that science is important in their lives. It’s just another class,” Elizabeth Hall says.

Her daughter, 15-year-old Grace Hall, says there are solutions, in her view: Help show her how science is relevant to her life and future job prospects, she says, and go deeper into how students arrive at answers.

“Right now, [in] chemistry it seems like, why are we learning this?” Grace says. It would be a better learning experience, she says, “if we were almost forced to really understand instead of just memorizing things… and [went] more in-depth in knowing why the answer is that answer.”

State and federal statistics show that at least one-third of all students entering higher education programs today need some kind of remedial or developmental course work. That fact underscores a worry about a widening science-skills gap that is shared by many parents and educators and some in business and academia.

International tests show that American students just aren’t measuring up, especially in math and science. The recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study shows that the U.S. ranks 28th globally

in science. having adequate preparation to compete for high tech jobs in the near future is a serious concern for parents and students who wish to pursue a career in science and technology.

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Are Schools Providing Students with Adequate Preparation to Compete For High Tech Jobs?

“Making room for science, that is a big problem,” says Mary Colson, an eighth-grade Earth science teacher in Moorhead, Minn. “In the elementary schools now, the push is often for reading and math minutes. And science and social studies often get left out because there is just not enough time,” she says. “That’s unfortunate, because often kids can’t help themselves but be curious about the natural world.”

On a recent afternoon in San Francisco, 9-year-olds from Paul Revere Elementary in the Bernal Heights neighborhood are captivated by a large Van de Graaff electrostatic generator — and the prospect of gently zapping a repo

rter. They implore me to put the metal part of my microphone on the machine — all in the name of science, of course.

It’s semi-controlled chaos here, but that’s the point. This is free-form explore time at the Mission Science Workshop in San Francisco. The program works with low-income and underserved public elementary schools to get kids excited about science. The program does it by mixing lots of hands-on learning with specific experiments that teachers can continue back in their own classrooms.

There are a lot of live reptiles, whole animal skeletons and a handful of project stations throughout the room, a large former high school auto shop-turned science lair. Think mad scientist meets Willy Wonka, with limited impulse controls. Fourth-graders Matthew Rivera and Jamal Damon gently tussle over two pythons while teacher Sarah-Jayne Reilly stands by.

“I grew up in Ireland and really didn’t do science until I was much older,” Reilly says. “And when I came here the first time, my mind was like, ‘Wow! I just love the way the children are learning to think.’ ‘

“We always tell them, ‘Don’t just believe me, try it for yourself, test it for yourself. It’s OK to be wrong. It’s OK to say what you’re thinking,’ ” she says.

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Eric Westervelt is NPR’s Education Correspondent

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