On February 25th, The Sun reported that a stunning 96 percent of Baltimore City's eighth-graders were not proficient in science and that 80 percent did not even have a basic understanding of the subject. Wow! Even schools CEO Andrés Alonso had to admit, "These results are terrible."
In response, The Sun ran a commentary by Nancy Grasmick cataloguing the many initiatives being undertaken to help local school systems in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). While I have the utmost respect for Ms. Grasmick and concur fully with her view that "our efforts in mathematics and science can't be successful if they don't start early," the Maryland Department of Education's efforts stand in stark contrast to other actions by the state: in the last three years, the state of Maryland has cut its support to the Maryland Science Center by 50 percent! There seems to be a bit of a disconnect.
As we tackle the enormous challenges of re-engineering our schools to address this country's absolute and competitive shortage of scientists, the Maryland Science Center is a vital means toward that end. Indeed, a 2009 study by the National Research Council points to informal education as key to enabling students to quickly grasp and reinforce the concepts they need to achieve academic, professional and personal success. Informal science education is about providing students with a fun, interactive learning experience.
With countless mediums vying for the attention of our children, we must do more than "teach" — we must captivate their imaginations and stimulate their interest. We must immerse them in a culture that shows them that learning — and science — is fun and is everywhere.
We are fortunate to have one of the leading science centers in the nation here in Baltimore. It is clearly in our collective interest to make it accessible to as many students as possible, and what limited state funding the institution receives goes directly toward free student and teacher access to programs and facilities. The disconnect, then, is that, while espousing a commitment to early education in the sciences, the state's reduction in support for the Maryland Science Center has dramatically reduced the number of students able to take advantage of free programs — from 100,000 students in 2008 to under 40,000 in 2010.
I would strongly urge our legislators in the state capital to return funding levels to 2007 levels so the Maryland Science Center's critical role in early educational development can be properly supported.
Alexander Mason, Baltimore
The writer is the former chairman of the Maryland Science Center board.