The status and makeup of the U.S. high school astronomy course in the era of No Child Left Behind
Krumenaker, Lawrence Edward
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A spring 2007 nationwide survey of high school astronomy teachers investigated: how many high schools teach astronomy, teacher backgrounds, student demographics, classroom materials and facilities and other facets of the modern course. Comparisons were made to Philip Sadler’s 1986 survey and to various states’ Departments of Education existing data. This multimethods study included qualitative questions investigating teachers’ perceptions about effects from 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) on their classes, views of course futures in their schools, and the nation. Other questions solicited recommendations on starting a course, defending it, and what needs to be done to increase the number of courses. Significant findings include: the number of regular classes are about 3200, totaling up to 4000 when a ‘hidden’ single-digit-sized classes population is included; fully 20% of all classes may be with 10 or fewer students. A course is found in 2500 schools, 12-13% of all American high schools. Many of Sadler’s numbers are unchanged after 22 years. However, the ratio of male to female teachers has gone from 88:12 to 67:33. Many teachers now come from the bioscience and geoscience majors, not physics. Today are 3-4% more schools offer astronomy than found by Sadler, and nearly twice the number of teachers (3200 now). Schools with astronomy are more often Passing in Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) than the national norm. Classes generally reflect racial, gender and ethnic demographics of their schools and the nation. More than half of all teachers claim no direct effects from NCLB on their courses, most of the rest seeing negative effects, generally dependent on how other science, mathematics and language courses fare. A growing number supplant conventional planetariums with computer “planetarium” software, currently at the same rate as portables ownership. Twenty-eight percent of teachers are not ‘highly qualified’ in that they have never had an astronomy course, let alone an astronomy degree. Teachers are generally more optimistic than pessimistic about the future, but mostly for their own course, not for the fate of courses around the nation. Six-part plans for starting a class and defending it from cancellation are developed for teachers’ use.