Forty Cents a Head: Follow-up

In a post earlier this week, I talked about the scandalous state of science education funding in one Iowa town, where we learned that teachers were working with equipment budgets of 40 cents per student per year. Well, I have an update from the teachers involved.  Apparently meeting with us and receiving our equipment donation was inspiring. Afterwards, the teachers went to their administration to discuss the budget they’d been handed. The outcome? They negotiated a 320% budget increase, ending up with $450 per year for their classrooms.

320% sounds like (and is) an impressive number. But is 82 cents per student per year a sufficient equipment budget to teach science? Especially in a state that has adopted the Next Generation Science Standards? The NGSS, which have been adopted in eighteen states, including California and Illinois, and are under consideration in many more, call for a practice-based, hands-on approach to science education. The standards are predicated on the idea that students should experience science as it is actually practiced; they need to be able to ask questions and design experiments. This means that “cookbook” labs tend to fall short of meeting the standards. To implement NGSS successfully, teachers must be able to obtain all kinds of material (including some weird stuff) for their students. 

When I was teaching science using these methods I had to buy more bendy straws or nail polish remover or other super important supplies for my students just about every day. The good news: It was pretty easy to steer students towards inexpensive materials for their experiments. I typically equipped each four-student team on a budget of about $80 a semester. I thought that was pretty modest, but it is clearly way out of the budget range of many practicing science teachers.

Even with the increase to $450 that the teachers negotiated, they’re still working with less than a dollar a head a year. I’m glad that they were able to enlist their administration in the shared goal of improving science education for their students. I’m also glad that NCSE and the local Science Booster Club were there to support them. Maybe if more teachers had the kind of support that our clubs and teacher networks can offer, more of them would feel confident enough to negotiate with their administrations. 

As I said earlier, I think it’s important for people to know the constraints science teachers operate under. So, please, if you’re a teacher, tell us your story. What is your budget now? How do you make it work? What equipment budget would you need to teach science to the standards presented in the NGSS? If NCSE is going to provide the right kind of help, we need people on the ground to tell us what’s working for them, and what teachers need to get the job done.


***note- careful readers may notice that this math seems wonky.  The numbers reported in this version are accurate- teachers negotiated an increase from $140 to $450.  Meaning that I should have checked the initial numbers they reported me- their estimate that they were receiving 40 cents a head was actually considerably more than they were getting.

Emily Schoerning
Short Bio

Emily Schoerning is the former Director of Community Organizing and Research at NCSE.