Everyone wants to "fix" our educational system.  But as long as most people have no choice over which school they attend, which teachers they sit under, and what they study, the system as a whole cannot be fixed.  At best we will continue to have an education lottery, because as long as schools are where people go to be taught, rather than to learn, everything depends on the teachers.

Today's Orlando Sentinel reports that although Florida's schools are being asked to place greater emphasis on the sciences, participation in county-wide science fairs is down drastically.  Some are blaming competition for students' time by other contests, such as Odyssey of the Mind; others bring out those customary whipping-boys, the pressures of standardized testing and of too many hours of employment.

(I could add another reason for disenchantment with science fairs, and that is obvious ignorance and prejudice on the part of the judges.  How frequent a failing this is I don't know; I suspect it's less common at the high school level.  But I know I lost my interest in encouraging our children to participate when a project that showed genuine mathematical inquiry and insight was passed over in favor of those which showed neatlly-graphed results of surveys of such things as classmates' snack food preferences.  Had the victim of this injustice not been my own child, I would have felt qualified to register a formal complaint.  As it was, I merely concluded that the judges either had no idea what mathematics is (not unlikely, at that level), or else disqualified the work on the basis that it could not possibly have been done by a first grader (she had had no chance to defend herself; her own teachers knew it was her work, but this was at the county level).  In any case, science fairs lost their luster for us at that point.)

Although not admitted directly, the article also holds the greatest clue to the puzzle:  so much depends on the teacher.

Suzy Behel, who arranges Seminole's fair, said kids need more time for research during the school day.

Of the 54 projects entered in last weekend's science fair there, Lake Brantley High, which offers a research class as an elective, submitted 49. The number of Lake Brantley students signing up also has grown in recent years.

Behel said the class helps students find mentors and coordinates entry into summer research programs.

Science research matters to Doc Behel, and she makes it happen for Lake Brantley students.  Most other teachers do not.  Thanks in great measure to where their parents happen to reside, Doc's students have won the lottery in this particular field.  No doubt they lost in many others.  As long as the ability to choose one's own schools and teachers remains limited, we will continue to play educational roulette.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 23, 2007 at 6:30 am | Edit
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