Two weeks into the semester, the principal of an underfunded high school in Arizona walked into English teacher Howard Ruffner’s classroom and told him he was now a science teacher. Ruffner, a flexible sort, said, “OK. Where’s the lab? What equipment do we have? What’s the budget for materials?” The answer: no budget, no equipment, no lab—and no textbooks either.
Like thousands of other science teachers at poorly funded middle and high schools around the country, Ruffner made do with creative lesson plans and a private donation of a few hundred bucks out of his own paycheck.
“Science is way down on the pecking order,” says Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. The situation has become especially bad since the No Child Left Behind law went into effect in 2002. It requires that students pass math and reading tests every year but a science test only once every three years. Teaching science costs more than teaching reading or math because of the pricey lab equipment and supplies, but these days the science budget is being pilfered to pay for the three R’s.
The end result? Rampant science illiteracy.