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Teaching Chemistry To Standards

August 27, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 35

I note the nationwide push toward science education standards with some concern (C&EN, May 28, page 54). On paper, this sounds like a good idea—college departments will have a better idea of what incoming students know, and all citizens will eventually have a knowledge and skill base that will help them, for instance, discern what politicians are really saying about science and technology.

But in practice, statewide and nationwide standards will fall short. The policy mavens of Texas, for instance, want students to understand the chemistry of solutions, solubility, and acid-base reactions, but their list of expectations ignores the skills and concepts of kinetics and equilibrium (, accessed July 29, 2012). Astonishing!

Some of this can be laid at the feet of college science and education departments. When I graduated from the Stanford Teacher Education Program in 1970, I was the only chemistry teacher in our class. Of my 43-year teaching career, 23 years have been spent in secondary chemistry. Yet, in that period, I have been able to mentor only one student teacher, and that was in the 1970s.

Now, in Texas, a year of chemistry is being required of every high school graduate. This is part of the so-called four-by-four requirements in English, math, social studies, and science. But because of the dearth of chemists with teaching certificates, most of the chemistry teachers now active have qualified by means of the “8–12” science certification, with just a couple of years of undergraduate college chemistry in their portfolios. I have great respect for these educators, some of whom are even teaching Advanced Placement chemistry, but the ones making critical decisions ought to be highly trained in both education and chemistry, and have a degree in the latter.

So, let me suggest, for those young people in college who are chemistry majors, get your education hours in and do student teaching with one of the handful of us who are expert in both chemistry and education. Many of us are close to retirement and would love to pass the metaphorical torch to a new generation, lest secondary chemistry education fall even further behind the excellence curve.

As someone told me at the age of 19, “You will never lack for job opportunities.”

By W. Patrick Cunningham
San Antonio



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