(Editor's note: When Jeremie Fish's column ran two weeks ago, we announced it would be his last; however, he has since decided to continue it.)
We read about it all the time: The nation is in trouble, we are failing our kids, we are falling behind, and so on. From all of this, you would think we were bombing the tests.
In actuality it is not quite as bad as it seems. In eighth-grade science, we fall at about number 11 on the list of test scores, certainly not wonderful but also not as terrible as people have made it seem. (Source: 2011 TIMSS international survey).
In fact, our fourth-graders were actually improving from the 2007 score, though our eighth-graders stayed about the same. This is not to say, however, that we should be complacent in the status quo. There do need to be changes to better serve our children.
One problem is that many states, with New York included, require an education degree to teach. You may wonder what is wrong with that? Well, having a degree in education does not guarantee that you will be a good teacher, and it requires you to go to school longer without learning anything new about the subject that you are going to teach. This makes no sense.
In fact, I argue that the better teachers are the ones who have a wonderful understanding of their subject matter. You may well argue that this will not guarantee that they are good teachers, either, and you would be correct. Yet in a recent Scientific American article, a study was mentioned that did show that teachers who performed better in their subject area were more likely to have higher-scoring classes.
So I would argue that we need to change with the times and lift the master's in education degree requirement, or at least allow high-performing BS and BA holders an alternative route to get their permanent licensure without getting a masters.
Another problem I can see with New York's science education system is that there is just too much focus placed on the Regents exam. I know that we would like a way to hold our teachers accountable, but by basically forcing teachers to teach to the test, they have to refrain from some of the most interesting parts of science.
Looking at the physics Regents exam as an example, basically no physics (other than a brief section on the standard model) makes it into the exam from just after the 1890s. Obviously a lot of physics has happened since then, but the bizarre approach seems to assume that these subjects would be over the heads of the students.
This is truly unfortunate because it makes the students feel like only people smarter than them can understand these things, and it scares them away from the subject. How will they ever be privy to the really interesting things that have come out of the last century, such as quantum entanglement, which may very well lead to better computers?
A similar argument can be made for the other sciences; in fact, upon my review of the chemistry Regents, there may have been even less new chemistry than new physics (which at least includes questions on the standard model).
I truly believe if we change our educational model with the changing times, we will be able to get back on a track that puts us again at the forefront of the world in science. However, we have to be brave enough to make those changes.
Jeremie Fish is a Wilmington resident and a Clarkson University graduate student.