Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Science Student Snake Oil ?

I had a conversation with my daughter's principal and counselor this week.   They were helpful as we tried to work out the kinks in a schedule that needed physics for a future STEM career. She had two choices:  an introductory college course or a remedial college course from a local community college.  Where was the high school class, I wondered?  I didn't hear an option.  This is not a post about pointing fingers; I don't know who approved the curriculum or made those decisions, and it would have done me no good to argue.   I left unsatisfied and unsettled, and that made me start thinking.

Don't get me wrong, here.   Community colleges play a vital role in giving access to lifelong learning opportunities.  I don't want to come across as blaming community colleges, but I do want to call attention to the fact that we are not partnering with them the way I think the Senior Year Plus intended .    I support dual-credit courses that are taught by qualified masters' teachers at their local high schools.  I even teach two of them...astronomy and environmental science classes...that transfer as science electives for students going on to business.  But that is after my students have had preparatory work in chemistry, physics, earth science, and biology.

Points to Consider:
  • In my own child's school is a teacher with a physics and chemistry certification.  However, the school is small, and assigning him chemistry or physics would require extra pay because of budget cuts.  The district has been able to cut a half-time employment because of this strategy.
  • My child heard that endless mantra,  "but you'll get college credit."   This is a snake oil bait-and-switch for many of the kids.  While it is true that many community colleges do give credit, often, the parent doesn't have the background to know if that class meets requirements, in science, humanities, math or general education at the colleges that have a RAI score required for entrance.  Often, the student ends up with a load of credits that do not meet school requirements that have anything to do with the major s/he picks and have to take the classes over again.
  • College teachers do not need to be certified in teaching K-12 students but have a Quality Faculty Plan.  As a high school teacher, I am licensed and have over 30 credits in educational theory, grading, and strategies. This brings up a frustration potential for instructors who assume the kids have the necessary level of maturity to act like adults, and are uncertain about strategies for struggling students.  This is not fair to the instructor or the student.
  • The student lacks background knowledge. This is a real concern in science, especially physics and chemistry.   These courses usually take a full year of high school curriculum and compact it into a semester.  Without appropriate formation, we compound the misconceptions of kids going into STEM careers and set them up for possible failure.
  •  These classes appear to violate the intent of Iowa.  When PSEO was put into place, we allowed kids to take a college class if they were in the top half of the class in 11th and 12th grade and had exhausted the classes offered at the local level.  In legalese, "a comparable course must not be offered by the school district or accredited nonpublic school which the pupil attends."  In Chapter 22 for Iowa schools it says the schools must offer chemistry and physics each at least every other year, and the Iowa Core says that ALL STUDENTS should get this formation. My interpretation, then, is that the schools were supposed to provide local instruction, contract with Iowa Learning Online, or provide an option like Angel Physics.  In this era of blended learning, we also could be sharing teachers between two districts or creating regional science academies like the Oelwein RAMS Center.   .  
Guidance counselors are coming back to school in a few days.  Parents have registered kids, but are awaiting that first week for schedule changes. I would love to believe that we will check with each kid and see what is right for them.

We keep talking about kids and STEM futures.  It's time to step up in and ask if we are doing what is right for kids or what is easy financially.

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