by Thelma Sardin
Although some public school students are benefitting from stimulating math and science
educational programs, nationally, American students still lag behind their global counterparts in
math, science and reading.
While science fairs like the ones held recently at Granville T. Woods Math and Science
Academy in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood help peak a student’s interest in science, a
recent Associated Press report, indicates there’s still much more work to do among students
The AP report unveiled America’s rank among its global counterparts in the areas of math,
science and reading. According to results from the 2009 Programme for International Student
Association (PISA), students in the United States rank 17th in science, 25th in math and 14th in
reading out of 34 countries that were assessed.
The test results demonstrate that American students perform average in reading and science and
below average in math.
Among the attendees at the Wood’s science fair held recently at the school was State Rep.
Monique Davis (D-IL). A former school educator and administrator, Davis believes science fairs
are beneficial because they help students understand the relationship between life and science
and they help build important communications skills, including writing, since students have to
write reports based on the experiments they conduct, she said. “It’s just an overall excellent
experience for children,” she added.
When you think about all of the advances that have been made in this country, there’s no reason
for Americans to lag behind any other group, Davis said, adding, parental involvement is key to
the success of any child.
As an educator, Davis posed several questions while sharing techniques she used in the
classroom. “… I would use plays in order to teach math,” she says. “The children would have to
design their own props and memorize their lines. Parents would come out and give children their
“We must ask ourselves, when was the last time you attended a program at school, when was the
last time you visited a science fair at the school? Does your school have them? When was the last
time you attended a play that your children participated in?”
Although Bobby Otter, spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) says science fairs at CPS
are still quite popular, other schools have seen a decline in participation.
In March 2011, CPS will host its citywide science fair for the 61st year at the Museum of Science
and Industry. He adds CPS is preparing students globally by, “expand[ing] our extracurricular
science offerings to include additional programs related to science. This has produced two types
of impact for students: it has given a wider spectrum of students’ access to science programming
and it allows students to experience other aspects of science and the scientific process,” he said.
CPS also has several schools designated as “math and science” academies including Walter
Payton Math, Science and World Language Academy, Lindblom Math & Science Academy and
Galileo Math& Science Scholastic Academy.
The academies include a rigorous program of math, science, and technology courses that help
prepare students for the future.
In spite of these efforts, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the 2009 PISA results show
there’s a lot of work to be done. Referring to the results, he told the Associated Press, “This
is an absolute wake-up call for America…the results are extraordinarily challenging to us and
we have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in
education,” he added.
While CPS has not seen a drop in activities like science fairs which help keep students involved,
Laura Hirsch, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at Crete-Monee School
District 201-U in the far South suburbs said participation in science fairs has declined because of
a lack of student interest.
“Science Fairs are not popular in our district,” Hirsch said. “About six years ago we attempted
to resurrect a K-8 District Science Fair,” she added. “The student participation rate was very
low, even with teacher and classroom support. This did not support our goal of having more
students engaged in science discovery,” she stated.
Currently the district is focused on developing a “hands-on science curriculum that fosters
student engagement, inquiry and high-level thinking,” she said. The school district does not
receive special funding for science programs, she said, however, “We use our local funds and
annual federal grant dollars to support our science programs including teacher training. We have
been able to accomplish our goals by establishing a multi-year plan for science, and planning our
budget allocations accordingly,” Hirsch stated.