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Improving science education in America

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GRADUATES MOVE FROM HARVARD AND YALE TO
Teacher Jennifer Kirmes prepares for class inside her science classroom at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for public Policy June 5, 2006 in Washington, DC.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

As American public schools continue to struggle with low test scores in science and math, the Obama administration is putting a new focus on improving science education. The administration has pledged $100 million immediately to motivate top-performing teachers in the field and $1 billion in the 2013 budget to meet a goal of 100,000 more math and science teachers in the next decade.

Today, just 25 percent of science teachers hold degrees in a science field. Pat Wingert, education reporter at Newsweek and a former Spencer Fellow for Education Journalism at Columbia University, joined The Daily Circuit Tuesday to talk about building a better science teacher.

"One of the things that is happening now is that we're trying to be more scientific about understanding what makes good science and math teachers," she said. "There was a long time where we had these common sense ideas that people who had more experience were better teachers. When we started actually studying these things, we began to realize that teachers who have deep knowledge in math and science make better teachers."

Most teachers with master's degrees have them in the education field, not in the field they teach, Wingert said. Those degrees don't seem to make a difference in teaching effectiveness. 

Karen Panetta, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University, said it's important for teachers to instill a passion in students at a young age through relevance in curriculum material. That requires teachers to keep up with the most current scientific research and news that students can connect to.

"If you don't have them keeping up with technology and they're just doing a quick hit memorizing, they don't retain anything and they can't connect it to the real world so there's no passion," she said on The Daily Circuit. "If you don't have that passion and if you don't get it by the 8th grade, well you're certainly going to lose it in high school and we're not going to see the pipeline filled going into college."

On Facebook, teacher Nadine Hennings  said it isn't a lack of passion. It's a lack of time given to teachers to prepare lesson plans.

"I am tired of hearing about what a poor job we are doing," she wrote. "What we really need to look at is the amount of time teachers in the U.S. are given to prepare quality, engaging lessons. I teach fifth grade, and all subjects. I have 50 minutes of preparatory time to get science, social studies, math, reading and art lessons ready. Usually this time is taken up with meetings and behavior issues. In other countries that are ahead of us in test results teachers have two to three hours to prep for two to three hours of teaching. This is the real issue."

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