Maryland: The state of science

With an eye to the future, Maryland is pushing for improvements in K-12 science education

March 14, 2011|By Nancy S. Grasmick

Science education in the U.S. faces many challenges. Our national school reform effort, crystallized in No Child Left Behind in 2002, concentrated first on mathematics and language arts. Science has not been emphasized in our teacher preparation programs. Building state-of-the art science labs for middle and high school students is expensive.

Our state has recognized the importance of improved science education, and has been working to strengthen instruction for the past several years. The Maryland State Department of Education in 2007 began awarding grants to local systems to upgrade science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and all 24 systems have received funding. Maryland also embedded STEM throughout our winning Race to the Top proposal, and the additional funding will allow Maryland to further enhance the development of our instructional staff.

At the elementary level, a STEM teacher certification is being developed to reflect an integrated STEM curriculum, using an approach that emphasizes problem solving. Many of Maryland's colleges and universities will pilot field and clinical experiences to prepare elementary STEM teachers as well as practicing teachers.

A project based on a national model seeks to recruit more science and math majors early in their college experience and introduce them to teaching careers at the middle and high school levels. Colleges of education will partner with colleges of arts and science to design a model of instruction that will strengthen science and mathematics content in all education courses.

Our efforts in mathematics and science cannot be successful if we don't start early. Maryland's unique assessment program, known as the Maryland Model for School Readiness, looks at how well prepared our students are as they enter kindergarten. Thanks to initiatives we have spearheaded at the pre-K level, our students are entering kindergarten with an improved knowledge of basic scientific concepts.

Our state in 2002 launched one of the nation's largest science-related initiatives in Project Lead the Way. The program focuses on engineering and biomedical sciences and can be found in 20 of our state's 24 systems. MSDE and its partner, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, were awarded the inaugural Joseph H. Oakey Excellence in Education Award in 2007 for this visionary work on behalf of students, teachers, and the community. Nearly 7,700 students in grades six through 12 are involved in Project Lead the Way programs across the state.

Maryland and its school systems also have forged relationships with the high-tech research and business community to further enhance science education. For example, internships have been developed with the National Cancer Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Horn Point Laboratory and NASA. When budget cuts threatened to end our state's long-running Summer Centers for Gifted and Talented Students, partners such as Honeywell, Northrop Grumman and Sciences Applications International Corp. have stepped in to assist. Finally, our state has benefited greatly from MSDE's strong ongoing partnership with the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

Although the results of some of these efforts will take time, others are already bearing fruit. For example:

•Maryland student success in science- and mathematics-related Advanced Placement assessments ranks as the nation's very best. Approximately 75 percent of students taking the Physics B Advanced Placement exam last year scored in the college mastery range, as did more than 70 percent taking the Physics C exam.

•Since 2005, Project Lead the Way has prepared more than 1,200 high school graduates for top-level science and engineering programs at colleges and universities.

•Maryland School Assessment science scores have risen steadily, despite the fact that science assessments are not tied to federal accountability rules regarding academic progress.

To further improve science instruction, Maryland last year signed on to the Common Core Standards Initiative, which will continue to raise standards in science and other parts of our curriculum.

Maryland has more to do in science education. I was the lone K-12 representative on the landmark "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report published in 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences. Its message: Our nation has ignored science and math education for far too long, and a serious investment in technology training at all levels is long overdue. We need more physicists, mathematicians, chemists and others with technical skills, and we need to recruit more prospective teachers in those disciplines.

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