Maz Goes Politician

Ever since the budget crisis began here in California, Mitch and I have debated how we would fix the problem if we were in positions of power. While we had some pretty great, and pretty terrible ideas, we soon stopped wondering what we would do in hypothetical situations and began to wonder how we could actually make a difference. Well, we decided to begin stepping into the world of politics; hoping to influence policy decisions that affect scientists and chemists for a start.

Enter ACR 88, a bill introduced by assembly members Torlakson (D-Martinez) and Furutani (D-Carson) in California.

The bill creates the California Task Force on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education (Task Force) to promote the improvement of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education across the state. The task force would generate discussion on policy that would improve the teaching of those subject areas for California’s K-12 students. It has no fiscal impact (the task force members are not paid).

You see, currently a full third of the 4th graders and a fifth of the 8th graders in the nation can’t preform basic computational math, and US high school seniors recently tested below the international average (out of 21 countries) in math and science.

Out of this poor group, take the fact that California ranked 46th (against other states) in math proficiency and 42nd in science proficiency on recent 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

And it still gets better. More than 50 percent of California 4th and 8th grade students scored below the basic level in science and 40% ranked below basic in math as determined by NAEP.

Given these statistics, it becomes obvious that California needs to drastically rethink it’s teaching methods and policies for K-12 math and science. As energy production, global warming, water purification and other scientific issues become more common to the 10 o’clock news, and therefore more salient in the public mind, we need to also focus on preparing the coming generations for the problems we are going to leave them. Also, the United States Department of Labor has recently shown that math or science preparation will be crucial to successfully competing for a job in 15/20 of the fastest growing occupations right now.

The President is also focusing national attention on scientific research, innovation, and math and science education. In a speech at the National Academies on April 27th, President Obama promised to make U.S. students the international benchmarks in the next decade by doubling budgets at certain science and technology agencies, policy change to enhance math and science education, and beginning to allot more than 3% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research and development. Obama said he wants to involve everyone from governors to parents to students to help increase support for science and technology and the quality of teaching. Supposedly 5 billion dollars is available in federal funds to help states improve their math and science teaching.

This is well and good, but throwing money aimlessly at the issue won’t solve anything. Bills like ACR 88, creating task forces to investigate effective policy change and inform the legislators, are the correct first step to tackling science and math education reform.

If any of you readers live in California, I urge you to write to your assemblyperson telling them that you believe we need science and math education reform and that you want them to support ACR 88. For any of you that are ACS members, they made it supremely easy for you. Simply go to and enter the relevant information. They will automatically send it to the correct representative for your district depending on your address. In fact, they even wrote the letter for you too!

Comments PLEASE. As a California public school survivor for my entire academic life, I have been through (and seen the failings) of the system first hand. I have some ideas on how to fix the issue, but I want to hear from ppl not in California too. Leave your two cents on what needs to be done to improve K-12 science and math education. Move calculus to required at 10th grade? do away with optional general physical sciences and the like? make everybody take biology followed by chemistry and then physics? in that order? what about elementary school? when to start teaching the scientific method? If 5th graders get sex. ed., should they also get newton ed.?

Lets see your ideas.


  1. You might want to reconsider your “fact that California ranked 46th (against other states) in math proficiency and 42nd in science proficiency on recent 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.” NAEP is based on a sample of students from each state, and the uncertainity in the results because of the sampling process is larger than many of the differences among the states. Thus ranking states doesn’t work. For a short paper about the “ranking states” issue see:

  2. Interesting. The standard error being greater than the difference between consecutive ranks is pretty big failing of the test. However, as the paper explains, it more accurately shows that California shares the lowest “rank” with 12 other states, which is still quite bad.

    Following what the author suggested, and using the t-test data given at the nces california state profile for 2005 for 8th graders in science: 38 states scored statistically significantly higher than California, and 12 scored equal to California.

  3. Maz, why do you refer to yourself as a survivor? Is it just pure irony, or is there a sharper point in there as well?

    I agree with your desire to push science fundamentals to younger and younger ages; there is no reason that organic chemistry is first covered (at the very earliest) the last month of high school or more typically, the first semester of their sophomore year.

    There is also a rather odd insistence on covering, recovering and covering again from the public school system. While repetition is indeed key for learning, I’m guessing that kids get really bored by it, too.

  4. Maybe they need “New Math” 🙂

    (NSFW: language)

  5. I’m from Illinois, but mostly grown up in the suburbs. In terms of math and science education, I think math should be rigorously emphasized earlier (namely in K-8) so that there is a solid foundation for physical and life sciences in the later years.

    In terms of order of high school science, I learned it in the order of biology, chemistry, and physics. However, I think it would be nice to learn it in the opposite ways. Physics (i.e. forces) plays a fundamental role in our everyday world. There is plenty of overlap (i.e. thermodynamics) in physics and chemistry. Biology, while based on nature, also plays heavily on chemistry.

  6. Wow, I am glad that “new math” was fizzled out by the time I got to middle school.

    I say survivor for a couple of reasons. When I was younger, I went to school in Hercules, near richmond and pinole. Luckily, we moved before I went to pinole high, where a friend of mine who was not so unfortunate was stabbed in his sophomore year. However, even in the lower grades, I remember many of those kinds of scenarios.

    My favorite memory was when I was in just the 3rd grade. My classroom on on the west end of campus, with a few feet of concrete path and a chain link fence separating the school from the park bordering it. I remember hearing a lot of shouting outside, and then a few loud bangs. The teacher walked over to the window, looked out, ran back towards her desk and told all of us to turn our desks like we had learned in the drill. We knew what to do, because we had a “what if there is an armed gang fight in the park next to the school” drill.

    The other “survivor” reason is simply that the system was so broken, there were several times in middle and high school where the administration tried to prevent me from taking more science and math classes, trying to make me take more P.E. and T.A. and other nonsense.

  7. Maz,
    I’m from Brazil and here things are quite different.But we have this kind of discussion too.
    Maybe other education system could me an answer.

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