Precollege science education needs improvement. Few students become scientifically literate enough to understand scientific inquiry. Most citizens have weak backgrounds in science and are not equipped to deal with important aspects of the modern world.
Quality science education is urgently needed for all students, not just the few motivated to become scientists or engineers at any cost. We must have scientifically literate workers and citizens if the nation is to prosper, and we must produce more science and engineering professionals among women and minorities, who are now under-represented.
A national effort to improve K-12 science education requires institutional change in over tenthousand independently governed school districts; nevertheless, with a unified effort by federal and state education departments, science and education university faculties, school administrators, teachers, and science professionals, we believe it can be met. Simultaneous changes are required in many areas, including teacher education, school organization, curriculum and standards development, and testing. Each depends on the others, and progress can be made only by linking efforts.
We believe all citizens should participate in this reform, if only as informed voters and taxpayers, but the education community, along with professional scientists and engineers, must work together to provide leadership to change the classroom.
The Caltech Precollege Science Initiative is such a collaborative effort, linking science and engineering professionals with educators, teachers, and school administrators.
We began with an emphasis on the needs of the youngest children, in grades K-6, because they begin school as natural scientists. If this beginning is nurtured and built upon, then these children will become scientifically literate citizens, and some will also become needed science and engineering professionals.
On the other hand, if science instruction remains minimal or consists of enforced rote learning, then it is all over by the sixth grade.
Over the years we have begun initiatives in other areas while continuing to work in elementary school programs.