Don't they know we've got budget cuts and staff reorganizations to gossip about?
finds need to identify new basics
in Illinois math, science
A newly-released survey completed by
more than 1,200 Illinois
teachers underscores a 21st Century dilemma in education: How can our schools
keep pace with rapidly expanding areas of knowledge?
The online Illinois Survey of
Critical Technologies conducted by the Public Opinion Lab at Northern Illinois
University found that a majority of math and science teachers do not feel
prepared enough to instruct their students in cutting-edge fields of study
expected to boom in the next decade.
The study is available online at http://www.ilcriticaltechnologi
At the same time, teachers who
participated in the survey expressed a strong desire to learn more about
emerging science fields, as well as some frustration about efforts to stay
current in the rapidly changing world of science, math and technology
State curriculum experts say
teachers' enthusiasm for learning more about such concepts as biotechnology,
alternative fuels and stem cell research suggests a starting point for
productive conversations among educators, employers and policy makers.
Colleges and universities that prepare new educators are also grappling with
these challenges in teacher preparation and professional development programs.
State Superintendent of Schools Randy
Dunn acknowledged the challenge. "If our state wants to continue to
be on the cutting edge of developing and implementing critical technologies,
then a focus on these concepts must exist in schools for the students who will
look to them not just as career options, but also as global citizens who are
informed about their risks and benefits," Dunn said.
Among the findings in the Illinois
Survey of Critical Technologies:
Too few Illinois high school and middle school
students are learning about the array of emerging technologies that researchers
and business leaders expect to drive the new economy. Those topics include nanotechnology,
proteomics, fuel cells, bioinformatics, biodefense, gene therapy, alternative
fuels, green technology, graph theory and quantum computing.
"For Illinois to flourish, our
state's current and future employees must be prepared to work with the
cutting-edge concepts that will drive innovation and economy vitality,"
said Dr. Penny Billman, senior research associate with the NIU Regional
Development Institute and author of an upcoming study on
math/science education in Illinois.
Billman points to this months'
massive "BIO2006" event at Chicago's
as an example of the importance of enhanced math/science education. The
conference, expected to attract thousands of scientists and venture
capitalists, showcases the best of Illinois'
biotechnology offerings. More than half of the concepts
studied in the Critical Technologies survey are directly associated with
biotechnology research, the area experts say offers Illinois its best opportunities for long-term
"The survey demonstrates a need
to identify the 'new basics' in science and mathematics," said Marilyn
McConachie, NIU education policy expert and author of the Critical Technologies
study. "We hope our findings will generate a serious conversation
about how and when to incorporate new information into coursework in Illinois schools. The
state's commitment to innovation requires that we find ways for ensuring
success of students and workers in the technology-driven global
In the wake of national reports
identifying the declining quality and quantity of science, technology,
engineering and mathematics professionals, the Illinois State Board of
Education commissioned the NIU-conducted survey.
In consultation with scientists and
business and industry leaders, the Illinois Math and Science
Academy identified a total of 26
technologies that are emerging as critical to Illinois' innovation and economic vitality.
Most of the concepts examined in the
report are so new that only a few are included in teacher preparation programs.
Still, the Illinois Survey of Critical Technologies analysis found that some
concepts do seem to be gaining traction in the classroom*meaning they are
increasingly being taught by teachers who want to learn more in these areas.
The traction topics include biotechnology, alternate fuels, graph theory, gene
therapy, natural products, green technology and fuel cells.
Advanced and innovative concepts are
making their way into Illinois
classrooms, but penetration is limited. Thirty-eight percent of all teachers
were already teaching at least one of the concepts and 44 percent planned to
add at least one more concept to their classrooms next year.
About half (52%) of the
teachers surveyed acknowledge awareness of at least half of the concepts; one
in five indicated that they were teaching three or more of the concepts, but
fewer than half are including any of the concepts at this point.
However, topics with lowest levels
of classroom use and interest among teachers included biopolymers,
astrobiology, bioinformatics, biodefense and quantum computing.
High school teachers consistently
were more aware of new concepts than their middle school counterparts. Of the
high school educators who understood concepts well enough to teach them, 68
percent were indeed teaching one or more of the topics. Eighty-four percent of
these knowledgeable teachers indicated they would add at least one more concept
next year. Teachers also made it clear that many of the topics were not age-appropriate
for their students, especially at the middle school level.
Survey results show the problem
isn't a lack of desire on the part of teachers to learn and introduce new
concepts in the classroom. When teachers indicated awareness of an advanced
concept, 60 percent took the initiative to learn more.
Yet more often than not, barriers
prevent new advanced concepts from entering school curriculums. These barriers
include time constraints, a lack of financial resources, state and local
policies, and a shortage of opportunities to acquire knowledge and teaching
materials, according to survey findings. Teachers were especially interested in
the efficiencies of the Internet for learning about new content and finding
The report concludes that helping
teachers develop their expertise in emerging technologies would seem to be an
important role for higher education, regional offices of education and other
providers of professional development.
"There are so many new and
important areas of knowledge, but Illinois
lacks a system for deciding when new concepts should be added and where to
focus scarce training resources," said ISBE science consultant Gwen
Pollock. "This study provides a blueprint for future discussions on
where to invest our time and dollars," she added.
Superintendent Dunn has offered
study and commitment to the findings of this report, focusing especially on the
realization that "It is time to define the 'new basics' in science and
"Our efforts in high school
reform, mathematics and science partnerships and the increase in graduation
requirements can become focused more clearly with this directive from Illinois teachers for
improving our future together," Dunn said.
Filed under: The World Outside CPS