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ACS And High School Chemistry

March 9, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 10

AS A HIGH SCHOOL chemistry teacher, I appreciate ACS President Thomas H. Lane's "call to arms" regarding the importance of relationships and the need to do more to reach out to our communities (C&EN, Jan. 5, page 2). However, I found his assessment of many of the challenges facing chemical education to be a bit simplistic and out of touch with the reality.

I have experience working with high school chemistry teachers from many parts of the U.S. One statistic Lane shared was the number of high school chemistry clubs ACS sponsors (more than 120) across the U.S. I think he meant to tout the progress ACS has already made in the high school arena, but to me that number is a reflection of the failure of ACS to make meaningful inroads at the high school level.

If my search of the National Center for Education Statistics data is correct, there are approximately 25,000 public and private secondary schools in the U.S. These 120 chemistry clubs represent less than 0.5% of the secondary schools in the country. This statistic should be a wake-up call. As Lane said, "Many argue that education in the U.S. has not kept pace with our changing society." However, one must also concede that ACS has not kept pace with the changing needs and challenges of high school chemistry teachers and students.

I encourage ACS to assemble a representative group of innovative high school chemistry teachers from around the U.S. who can establish a meaningful metric by which ACS can truly assess its progress in improving student learning at the secondary level.

Some goals of the group should be to establish cohort groups of highly qualified high school teachers seeking Ph.D.s in chemical education aimed at secondary-education issues; to create networks of dynamic partnerships between major chemical companies and local teachers to supplement instructional exchanges of "real-world problems" being tackled by chemistry; to create a dynamic professional community of high school teachers who develop common assessment items and project-based learning, as well as scoring rubrics and tools for improving student performance; and to implement whatever other ideas might come from key players in the secondary-level chemical education community.

ACS needs to support secondary-level chemical education differently. If we are willing to chart a bold new course, I believe ACS is uniquely positioned to catalyze a revival of "Sputnik-era fervor for learning" in our culture through the revitalization of the secondary chemical education community. An unprecedented number of science teachers will retire in the next five to 10 years; if we fail to take bold steps now, we may not have enough students going into chemistry to meet the major societal challenges of the not-so-distant future.

Bruce Wellman
Lawrence, Kan.

LANE FACES a large obstacle in improving chemistry education. Our society considers varsity sports more important in our schools than academics!

Look at the emphasis TV news and newspapers give to sports. We have fifth-grade basketball teams to develop future players. Eighth-grade ball games are covered by news reporters. High schools also have coaches, assistant coaches, all-school pep sessions with cheerleaders, and news interviews with the outstanding players.

Our society does not care much about chemistry!

James F. Jackson
Carlisle, Ind.


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