Some Maryland high school students are trying to learn science in classrooms that have no test tubes and Bunsen burners, much less the kinds of computers needed for many of tomorrow's scientific advances, a gubernatorial committee has found.
To address the problem, Gov. William Donald Schaefer planned today to unveil a $2 million state "challenge" grant program to improve the quality of high school science laboratories across the state.
Dr. Michael J. Hooker, president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, said good laboratories were essential because science is not an abstract subject."
"You need to integrate textbook and lecture education with learning by doing," said Dr. Hooker, who chairs the 4-month-old Governor's Committee on High School Science Labs for the 21st Century.
"It is absolutely crucial to the economic well-being of the country and the state that we address the crisis in science education," he said.
"Clearly the 21st century economy worldwide is going to be built on science, engineering and technology," he said. Without good science education from kindergarten through high school, "there no way a nation can even be among the winners."
Local school districts will have to raise their own share of the cost of lab improvements, and enlist the support of private industry in order to qualify for matching grants.
The exact proportions of state, local and private participation have not been worked out, said Judy Sachwald, assistant to the governor for education.
The state money was allocated under the 1993 Public School Construction and Capital Improvement Program and will be available in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The governor was to unveil the grant program at the Maryland Science Center today as part of Maryland Science Week.
Science laboratories in Maryland schools vary widely in their quality,Dr. Hooker said.
Facilities and instruction at Montgomery County's 4-year-old Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, for example, are "probably the very best" in Maryland and among the top 10 in the nation.
"And yet even that school could stand some improvement; they need more computer facilities than they have," Dr. Hooker said.
But "the far greater need is in those schools, say in Baltimore City or rural areas of Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland where they don't even have test tubes, where science is taught in a classroom that has no lab facility, that is, no gas or [suitable] electricity, no fume hoods," he said.
Dr. Hooker said that his committee had not finished its report to the governor, but that it was likely to recommend that the challenge grants go to school systems that demonstrate a commitment to "reform of their entire approach to science education" according to guidelines formulated a year ago by the state Department of Education's Task Force on Science for the Future.
The committee also was expected to recommend expansion of the summertime Governor's Science Academy, to provide improved science training for teachers. "It doesn't help to have state-of-the-art equipment if the teacher is not trained in its use,"Dr. Hooker said.
The committee has placed no price tag on the effort, Dr. Hooker said. But the allocation of $2 million toward improving high school science labs across the state would amount to "spit in the ocean" if that were the extent of the state's commitment, he said.
"We are thinking in terms of a 20-year program to refurbish science labs in the state," Dr. Hooker said.
In addition, "the whole purpose of the state part of it is to leverage local funding."
Overall, the effort "could put Maryland in the forefront of science education in the country.
"That's our hope," he said.