Issue Date: February 2, 2009
ACS And Science Education
AS PARENTS AND CITIZENS, we all know how vitally important education is. As chemists and scientists, we are painfully aware of the multiple deficiencies that exist in science education in the U.S. at all levels. Those deficiencies have been documented in endless reports and quantified in the results of numerous international standardized tests that show American students falling behind much of the rest of the world in their understanding of fundamental science and mathematics concepts.
It remains difficult, however, to wrap one's mind around education issues, especially how to improve science education. Perhaps it's just because science is so broad and the issues confronting successful reform of science education are so intractable.
The American Chemical Society has been deeply involved in education issues throughout its history. Late last year, ACS formed a Board-Presidential Task Force on Education chaired by Richard N. Zare, who is chair of the chemistry department at Stanford University and one of the most innovative chemistry educators in the U.S.
The charter of the task force states that it is charged with "1) reviewing recommendations contained in national STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education reports released during the past five years; 2) identifying specific actions that the Society could undertake in response to these recommendations; and 3) creating a priority list of actionable items where the Society can have a unique impact on STEM education."
The task force's charge extends across all levels of education, from primary (starting at pre-K) through graduate and postgraduate programs, and includes continuing professional development and informal educational institutions such as museums. As a reflection of this broad focus, the task force has formed subcommittees for primary, secondary, and tertiary education and for outreach.
The charter states: "Solving the challenges the world faces in the 21st century will require synergy among new scientific knowledge, policy makers who understand its use, and a public that embraces the results. Education is by far the most critical ingredient for creating this synergy and needs to be a top priority for all nations and their component institutions. As the largest scientific society in the world, the American Chemical Society has a special opportunity and obligation to provide leadership in education that is both an end in itself and a model to encourage others to bring their perspectives and resources to the task."
I know that Zare has specific ideas about involving the ACS local sections and a large number of ACS members in a commitment to improving chemistry education at all levels. In sharing some of his still-forming ideas with me, he wrote, "I am determined to make sure that this task force does not generate another space-filling report that collects dust. There have been enough of them already."
Mary Kirchhoff, the director of the ACS Education Division, is the staff liaison to the task force. "The work of the task force can play a significant role in shaping the society's impact on science education for years to come," Kirchhoff says.
Zare and Kirchhoff are soliciting input from ACS members and the chemistry community in general. You can offer suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. They note that you can have the most influence on the task force's deliberations by submitting your ideas before the spring ACS national meeting in Salt Lake City (March 22–26). "Concise suggestions with plans of implementation would be warmly welcomed," they add.
The ACS vision statement—"Improving people's lives through the transforming power of chemistry"—implies a focus outside the chemistry enterprise that I'm not sure ACS has yet to entirely embrace. The charter of the Board-Presidential Task Force on Education clearly charges the group with bringing the strengths of ACS to bear on transforming science education in the U.S. Please think about what the society can do to make this a reality and communicate your ideas to the task force.
Thanks for reading.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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