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Panel Makes Recommendations for Student Science Literacy

February 23, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Saying that ″the republic is in trouble,″ a panel organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced plans Thursday to work with school districts in four states to find new ways to teach science, mathematics and technology.

F. James Rutherford, chief education officer of the association, said teachers and principals in the school districts will work with universities and industry to develop a ″blueprint for action″ for a fresh approach to science and math education.

″It’s not a project to patch up the system we have now,″ he said, but an attempt ″to create the schools of the future.″

Participating in the project are the San Diego Unified School District; the San Francisco Unified School District; the Green County and Oglethorpe County Schools in Georgia; the McFarland Community Schools in Wisconsin, and four districts in San Antonio, Texas - the San Antonio, Harlandale, Northside, and Edgewood indpendent school districts.

The program calls for up to 25 teachers from every grade level in each district to create and test new approaches to science education. The project is supported by almost $2 million from the National Science Foundation; $700,000 from the Carnegie Corp.; $1.1 million from IBM, and $735,000 from the particpating states.

Part of an association program called Project 2061, efforts in the school districts are designed to reorganize science education around a system that concentrates on training ″habits of the mind″ instead of memorizing vast amounts of detail.

″This is an effort to move schools away from their fixation on teaching mountains and mountains of isolated facts″ about science, and, instead, to spend the primary and secondary school years teaching students how to think, evaluate and react to new circumstances throughout life, said Rutherford.

Science education in America is failing, he said, because it concentrates on such things as ″thousands of words the kids are asked to memorize.

″You can cut away a large part of that debris and still get down to fundamentals,″ he said.

Deborah Larson, coordinator for the program in Wisconsin, said new methods of teaching science and math must be developed if American students are to become scientifically literate. Now, she said, U.S. schools are doing a poor job of teaching technical subjects and are graduating students who are not prepared for an age of technology.

″The republic is in trouble,″ she said. ″Illiteracy is rampant and if we don’t bring it under control, it will be the end of life in this country as we know it.″

Rutherford announced the school districts at a news conference during which the association released a study on education called Science for All Americans, which is the first phase of Project 2061.

The report analyzes what experts consider to be minimim amount of science and math that Americans should know to be able to function competitively in the next century. Rutherford said the study was designed to define the fundamentals of scientific literacy.

Project 2061, named for the year that Haley’s Comet will return to the vicinity of Earth, is a long-term effort by several hundred scientists, academics and corporations to develop a plan to overcome what is considered to be a serious deficit in science education in America. The program is directed by the association but supported by a combination of federal and private grants.

The study released Thursday established broad outlines for the redesign of science education.

″Sweeping changes in the entire educational system from kindergarten through 12th grade will have to be made if the United States is to become a nation of scientifically literate citizens,″ the report said.

Science literacy, it said, is essential if Americans are to combat global problems tied to the environment and to nature.

″Without the ability to think critically and independently, citizens are easy prey to dogmatists, flimflam artists and purveyors of simple solutions to complex problems,″ the study said.

The report proposes that all high school graduates:

-Understand how scientific endeavors work and how various fields relate to each other.

-Be able to grasp the fundamentals of nature and the role of humans in it.

-Acquire mental habits preparing them to be inquisitive, critical participants in the affairs of the world.

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