Science and mathematics education in the United States is desperately in need of reform, and any substantial remedy will demand not only the financial support of the federal government, but also a concerted effort by scientists, lawmakers, and educators. Although the current crisis has been in the making for decades, efforts at corrective action have been stymied by a fundamental and disastrous misunderstanding.

In December 1981, James Shymansky, a science education professor at the University of Iowa, and I surveyed 450 teacher placement offices at U.S. colleges and universities. We also polled 1,000 high school principals to determine the qualifications and teaching assignments of science and math teachers. The results were startling: Half of the classes of newly employed science and math teachers and one-third of all science and math classrooms in the U.S. were, according to the school principals, staffed by teachers who were unqualified in those subjects. The...

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