I can’t remember returning from a column interview more pumped up and hopeful.
Maybe it was because of my bleak starting point.
The Doors’ “Been Down So Long” danced fleetingly through my mind.
But it wasn’t the same. Things looked up all right. But not because my vantage point was so beaten down that anything would look up.
Rather, they looked up because of the success, commitment and ideas of the two people I met last Thursday at Basha High School in Chandler.
They looked up because I had the pleasure of exploring the issue of math and science education with two people who, if given the chance by policymakers, could light the way to improving opportunity for science-minded Arizona youth.
But first let’s set the stage.
Dim the lights, please.
We’ll start chronologically with a presentation given a couple of months ago by Arizona State University President Michael Crow at an event sponsored by an organization called the Presidents Community Enrichment Program.
One grim slide after another painted a statistical picture of an America losing its technology leadership edge. The slides were from a report called “The Gathering Storm 2010.”
Ninety-nine percent of all public school students grades 5-8 are taught physical sciences by teachers who do not have a certificate or degree in physical sciences.
Twenty-two percent of all secondary school math classes are taught by teachers without a certificate or degree in math.
And so on.
Zoom in on Arizona and it gets worse.
Earlier this month Science Foundation Arizona got its annual report card from the Ohio-based Battelle Technology Partnership Practice.
How are we doing?
OK — if you don’t count K-12 science and math education. Our kids and our schools lag the nation in those areas, the report said.
We’re near the bottom of the states studied by Battelle in providing “a high quality talent pipeline.”
Oh, those Ohioans. What do they know about Arizona?
Well, Craig Barrett does know something about Arizona. I don’t know if Intel’s former CEO still has a home in the Valley, but Intel does have a $10 billion presence along Chandler’s Price Road Corridor and that’s a darn good reason to pay attention to what he has to say.
As reported in the Tribune last week, Barrett told members of the Arizona Commerce Authority that the “educational system in the United States and in Arizona in particular is not particularly attractive.”
Sure Intel is undertaking a huge expansion to an existing complex, but if it were looking to build an entirely new operation, Barrett said Arizona would not make Intel’s top 10 list.
Where have I heard this before? Oh, yes, when Boeing passed on Mesa as a site to build the 787 Dreamliner.
But out of March’s darkness came a flash of good news. No, make that wonderful news.
Intel’s locally based corporate affairs office distributed a press release announcing that a Basha High School senior, Scott Boisvert, had placed in the top 10 of Intel’s national Science Talent Search. That made him only the second Arizona student in this century to do so.
According to the press release, the 17-year-old Chandler resident placed 10th for his investigation of aquatic habitats and search for a link between water chemistry and the proliferation of a harmful fungus that is contributing to the decline of the amphibian population. He received a $20,000 award.
Local reports carried the news of Scott’s achievement, but achievements such as this seldom if ever come in a vacuum.
In an era when teachers in general are maligned and credentialed science and math teachers are coveted, though not paid well for it, was there a teacher who inspired Scott?
If there was, what would he have to say about the state of science and math education in the Grand Canyon State and how to improve it?
Out of the “Gathering Storm” report that I mentioned earlier, the National Academies recommended that the nation train and send into our secondary classrooms 10,000 science and math teachers every year. As the recommendation nobly phrased it: “10,000 teachers educating 10 million minds.”
I was looking for one Arizona science or math teacher who could tell me what would it take?
Scott Boisvert had proved he is an exceptional high school science student. Was there an exceptional teacher who fostered or mentored Scott? And might that teacher shed his perspective on science education in Arizona.
There was. But I had no idea just how accomplished this teacher would be.
Look for the second part of this column in Friday’s Tribune.
• Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.