Recent tests of Iowa eighth-graders found only 365 were proficient in basic math and science skills. Alan Leshner, C.E.O. of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says it’s a shame for a state that prides itself on its educational accomplishments to be failing in this key area.
Leshner says, "In a time when science and technology are so critical to the workforce of the future, the economy of the future, we cannot afford for Iowa’s young people to be stragglers, to be left behind in the economy of the future." He’s seeing encouraging signs President Obama will help to give science a more important role, like by appointing a Nobel Prize-winning physicist as the U.S. Secretary of Energy.
"The new administration has to balance problems in dealing with the economy with applying the best science and technology to the nation’s major problems," Leshner says. "Whether it’s climate, energy, the environment, stem cell research, health care — every major issue of modern life has science as a part of it." He says technology is a vital component to the nation’s continued development and prosperity, but Iowa schools are evidently facing a challenge in meeting demand.
Leshner says, "One of the biggest problems is that it’s very difficult to recruit and retain the best and brightest science teachers because they can, frankly, make more money in other science-related occupations." He notes that financial challenges are hitting teachers across the state and nation like everyone else.
"I believe we will never address the problems with science education until we get the political or public will to pay science teachers in a way that will be competitive with other fields," he says. Leshner is executive publisher of the journal "Science." The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world’s largest general science organization and represents an estimated ten-million scientists globally.