Notes from Science Generation
April 9, 2008 AMNH NYC
Crisis in science education and science literacy - we have our Sputnik moment right now!
The concentration of heavy hitters during the day and a half of the Science Generation conference (http://www.amnh.org/science/specials/summit/) at the American Museum of Natural History was overwhelming. Nearly every one made compelling points or bold proposals that I jotted down. Here is a sampling:
Dr. Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corp. - building on the concept of the ad campaign that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, he warned that “a generation is a terrible thing to waste.” He described technology as a trojan horse to draw kids into science.
Charles Phillips, Jr., President, Oracle Corp. - kids are “hungrier” overseas for learning. We need to educate parents about the current crisis and the value of science education.
John Abele, Co-founder, Boston Scientific Corp. - “we have our Sputnik moment right now.” The American way is to wait for the super crisis before taking action. Can we accelerate the public recognition of the current crisis?
Our society suffers from “affluenza.” If we celebrate the right things, people will follow.
FIRST is a robot challenge competition that has involved 150K kids so far, that has the excitement of NASCAR, but also forces teams to cooperate in order to win.
Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House - we coddle kids in adolescence. Kids need jobs or educational challenges. Ben Franklin went off to apprentice at age 13. The average age of students at Princeton in 1780 was 13.5 years.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director, Hayden Planetarium - we are always on the trajectory of complexity. There is a doubling of information every 30 years but that was true 30 years ago as well. People always feel life is too fast, no matter when they live.
We should triple NASA’s budget, because they turn dreams into education effectively.
Don’t blame the science standards - teachers need to be better able to relate to today’s kids. [prompting a response from Gerry Wheeler that this sounds like “teacher bashing” to which Neil pounded his fist and declared that it was absolutely meant to be that]
Gerald Wheeler, Exec. Director, National Science Teachers Association - there are 2 million teachers of science in the U.S. today - teachers in K-12. They don’t see themselves as science teachers, but parents and the public do.
James Hunt, former Gov. of No. Carolina, chairman Hunt Inst. for Educational Leadership and Policy - we need common science standards across the country, but that does not mean federally mandated standards. Every child is able to learn effectively. Excellence and broad engagement are mutually achievable. State and local education leaders should form world class common (national) science standards.
Dr. Robert Hormats, Vice Chairman, Goldman Sachs - we are in a “slow motion crisis” vs the Sputnik crisis. The U.S. needs a national mission. We have de facto national standards for the elite and rich in AP classes. Why not something comparable for everyone?
Ellen Futter, President, American Museum of Natural History - we all understand what the problem is. The goal of the conference is to jumpstart the remedy to solve the problem. The solution must be cross sector - educators, funders, government, private sector - to improve science education and science literacy.
There is an unresolved debate about national standards, but we must have commitment to common goals. Government must make science education and literacy a priority, with incentives and benchmarks.
This summit focuses on the science demand side vs the science supply side. What will it take to create the power of the “science mom and dad” comparable to the political influence of the “soccer mom?”
We have to stop underestimating the potential of our kids.
Frank Luntz, pollster, tv network news - less than 5% of the presidential debates have related to education, and there was almost nothing on science.
NCLB - parents want accountability, but teachers feel their hands are ties and the system is impersonal.
Joel Klein, Chancellor, NYC Dept. of Education - we need national standards and assessments, improvement of our science teaching corps, partnerships with cultural and scientific institutions (such as museums). There are no short cuts but we need scientific literacy among the population, it’s in our national self-interest.
The quality of teachers is the second big challenge. We have to look at offering pay differentiation among specialties.
John McCarter, President & CEO, The Field Museum - they produced a $20M exhibition on evolution - an investment of their best and brightest at the museum, but feel trumped by the $27M creation museum in Kentucky.
They offer free admission for 2 months to kids with perfect attendance. Their goal is “No Child Left Inside.”
Robert Corcoran, VP General Electric, President GE Foundation - GE wants world class common national standards for math and science education. Every other OECD country has them. We need to revamp teacher education at the college level.
Stephanie Bell-Rose, Pres., The Goldman Sachs Foundation - how do we respond to the urgency of this crisis? There has to be strategic and investment partnership for cross-sector involvement.
My comment - I concur with Ellen Futter. We are all in agreement. How do we go forward? It wasn’t obvious what the next steps would be after the summit. I’m hoping that after the dust settles, we will see a proposal from the organizers. The high-level corporate role in this summit suggests that action is expected.
Posting Contributed by:
M. Lee Allison, PhD, PG
State Geologist & Director
Arizona Geological Survey
416 W. Congress, #100
Tucson, AZ 85701