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f~ ~ paw . BIOLOGY EDUCATION IN THE NATION'S SCHOOLS Committee on High-Schoo! Biology Education Board on Biology Commission on Life Sciences National Research Council NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS Washington, D.C. 1990
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National Academy Press · 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. · Washington, D.C. 20418 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. This Board on Biology study was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Library of Congress Cataloging~in-Publication Data National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on High-School Biology Education. Fulfilling the promise: biology education in the nation's schools / Committee on High-School Biology Education, Board on Biology, Commission on Life Sciences, National Research Council. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Biology-Study and teaching United States. I. Title. QH3 19.A1N38 1990 574' .071~0973-dc20 Copyright ~ 1990 by the National Academy Press 9042248 CIP No part of this book may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic, or electronic process, or in the form of a phonographic record, nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or otherwise copied for public or private use, without written permission from the publisher, except for the purposes of official use by the U.S. government. Printed in the United States of America ISBN 0-309-04243-7, case; ISBN 0-309-05147-9, paper.
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COMMITTEE ON HIGH-SCHOOL BIOLOGY EDUCATION TIMOTHY H. GOLDSMllH (Chairman), Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut CLIFTON POODRY (Vice Chairman), University of California, Santa Cruz R. STEPHEN BERRY, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois RALPH E. CHRISTOFPERSEN, Smith Kline and French Laboratories, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania JANE BUTLER KAHLE, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio MARC W. KIRSCHNER, University of California, San Francisco JOHN A. MOORE, University of California, Riverside DONNA OLIVER, Bennett College, Greensboro, North Carolina JONATHAN PIEL, Scientific American, New York, New York JAMES T. ROBINSON, Boulder, Colorado JANE SISK, Calloway County High School, Murray, Kentucky WILMA TONEY, Manchester High School, Manchester, Connecticut DANIEL B. WALKER, San Jose State University, San Jose, California Special Advisors PAUL DeHART HURD, Palo Alto, California JOHN HARTE, University of California, Berkeley Former Members EVELYN E. HANDLER (Chairman, 1987-1988), Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts MICHAEL H. ROBINSON (1987-1988), National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C. MARY BUDD ROWE (1987-1989), University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida DAVID T. SUZUKI (1987-1989), University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada National Research Council Staff JOHN E. BURRIS, Study Director DONNA M. GERARDI, Staff Officer WALTER G. ROSEN, Consultant NORMAN GROSSBLATT, Editor MARY KAY CERLANI, Senior Secretary · . .
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BOARD ON BIOLOGY FRANCISCO J. AYALA (Chairman), University of California, Irvine NINA V. FEDOROFF, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Baltimore, Maryland TIMOTHY H. GOLDSMITH, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut RALPH W. F. HARDY, Boyce Thompson Institute of Plant Research, Ithaca, New York ERNEST G. JAWORSKI, Monsanto Company, St. Louis, Missouri HAROLD A. MOONEY, Stanford University, Stanford, California HAROLD J. MOROWITZ, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia MARY LOU PARDUE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge DAVID D. SABATINI, New York University, New York MICHAEL E. SOULE, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MALCOLM S. STEINBERG, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey DAVID B. WAKE, University of California, Berkeley BRUCE M. ALBERTS (ex officio), University of California, San Francisco National Research Council Staff OSKAR R. ZABORSKY, Director 1V
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COMMISSION ON LIFE SCIENCES BRUCE M. ALBERTS (Chairman), University of California, San Francisco BRUCE N. AMES, University of California, Berkeley FRANCISCO J. AYALA, University of California, Irvine J. MICHAEL BISHOP, University of California Medical Center, San Francisco FREEMAN J. DYSON, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey NINA V. FEDOROFF, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Baltimore, Maryland RALPH W. F. HARDY, Boyce Thompson Institute of Plant Research, Ithaca, New York LEROY E. HOOD, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena DONALD F. HORNIG, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts ERNEST G. JAWORSKI, Monsanto Company, St. Louis, Missouri MARIAN E. KOSHLAND, University of California, Berkeley HAROLD A. MOONEY, Stanford University, Stanford, California STEVEN P. PAKES, Southwestern Medical School (University of Texas), Dallas, Texas JOSEPH E. RALL, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland RICHARD D. REMINGTON, University of Iowa, Iowa City PAUL G. RISSER, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque RICHARD B. SETLOW, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, New York TORSTEN N. WIESEL, Rockefeller University, New York, New York National Research Council Staff JOHN E. BURRIS, Executive Director v
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The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Frank Press is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Robert M. White is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an advisor to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Samuel O. Thier is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and of advising the fed- eral government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engi- neering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Frank Press and Dr. Robert M. White are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council. V1
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Preface The seed for this study was germinating in the Commission on Life Sciences of the National Research Council when the Board on Biology was created in 1984. The board's attention was initially drawn to high-school biology by the controversy over the inclusion of evolution in the school curriculum, but in a one-day workshop with teachers and textbook publishers it quickly became apparent that myriad other problems beset the teaching of science. As the present study got under way, it was our intention to focus on the high-school biology curriculum, but we found that restricted goal elusive. Perhaps I can explain why by paraphrasing one of our reviewers, who characterized this report as describing the "ecology" of science education. That puts it well, for this is a report about complex relationships how failure of learning in high-school science has its origins in elementary school, how texts, tests, teacher education, colleges and universities, and political and economic assumptions all contribute to the status quo, and how difficult it is to alter any one element alone and expect any meaningful change in the entire system. There is of course a history, too-how the nation's educational system got into its present state, and why previous efforts at reform of science education have been so ephemeral. In short, as our deliberations progressed, we were compelled by the nature of the problem to broaden the scope of our analysis. To whom is this volume addressed? The simple answer is to everyone interested in education and the performance of our schools: teachers, parents, scientists, school boards, school administrators, science educators, legislators, and all who make or support policy that affects our schools. The need for change is pervasive and will have to be accomplished on a broad front, because . . V11
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. · ~ V111 PREFACE the very intellectual and cultural environment in which both children and their teachers are exposed to science must be altered. Consequently, there is work to be done by everyone. As this is a report of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council, it is appropriate that we have a special message for scientists, par- ticularly those who teach in colleges and universities. Traditionally aloof from the world of precollege education, our institutions of higher learning in fact contribute to the calamity. But of this, more in the report. Several years elapsed before the National Research Council was able to find a willing sponsor for this study, and we are grateful to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, whose officers and trustees shared some of the same concerns about the distressing state of science education and who have generously underwritten the assessment that is presented in this volume. Like all who labor on such analyses and reports, we who made up the committee obviously hope that we have made a useful contribution toward the solution of a complex national problem, but we would also like to salute the stewards of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for enabling us to make our case. In particular, Purnell Choppin and Joseph Perpich have displayed vision and leadership in directing attention and resources to the problems of science education. I would like to share a reminiscence about that early one-day meeting that led to this study, because it introduces a theme we have strived to develop in the book. I had not realized until that day the depth of isolation and abandonment now felt by many able and dedicated teachers who had participated in summer institutes for secondary-school science teachers first sponsored by the National Science Foundation 20-25 years ago. Those experiences created a sense of community, a feeling of belonging to a larger guild of professional scientists that was both helpful and sustaining, but that largely melted away with the ending of the federal programs in the early 1980s. Those of us who teach know well that enthusiasm is indeed infectious, and I have had great trouble reconciling the cold, analytical studies that purport to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of those summer programs on student learning-studies that were used as part of the justification for largely terminating federal involvement in science education- with the joyous memories I hear whenever I interact with teachers from that era. This is an issue discussed at greater length in our report, but it is one illustration of how fragile is the place of teachers. As a nation we ask teachers to do a job requiring dedication and professional performance, but we sabotage the professionalism of teaching in countless ways. There is much more to successful teaching than loud cries for "accountability" might have one believe, and the need to create an appropriately professional environment for teachers is at the heart of our problem. The experience of working with this committee has been personally re- warding, for it has demonstrated how a diverse group of individuals representing practicing teachers, research scientists, science educators, university teachers,
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PREFACE 1X school administrators, and others can work harmoniously on a complex ed- ucational matter. We did not always start with agreement, but our areas of disagreement always shrank dramatically with discussion, and in the end, little of substance separated us. Mutual respect and a conscientious effort to ad- dress the central issue before us inevitably prevailed. The experience makes me optimistic that the approaches we have outlined in this book can in fact be successfully implemented in the larger community by forging new working alliances of concerned participants. Finally, with the rest of the committee I would like to thank John Burris, Donna Gerardi, and Walter Rosen, whose staff work made the study go. They have organized meetings, pursued background papers, and answered countless queries in a superbly professional manner. TIMOTHY H. GOLDSMITH, Chairman Committee on High-School Biology Education
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