a reflection on the status of science education in Sequim


The site author is no longer teaching either chemistry or physics at Sequim High School.  The school principal (who departed to another job shortly thereafter) claimed he reassigned the author to primarily remedial instruction of English, social studies, health, and math on direction from a school board member.  He explained the justification for the reassignment had little to do with the author's qualifications or teaching skills.  The author has both BA and MA in chemistry and extensive physics training at Oak Ridge, Harvard, Stanford, Santa Barbara and elsewhere.  All teaching evaluations have been satisfactory, the highest evaluation possible.  The author has received awards and recognition for outstanding chemistry and physics teaching (the most recent in May 2002), and a great many accolades from former students.

The reason given for the reassignment was there had been too many complaints by students and parents.  (By contract ALL complaints must be forwarded to the employee so that the employee might make correction or address the complaint.)  A total of THREE letters of complaint were shared with the author.  The complaints were vague and non-specific stating the parent and student didn't like the teacher or his teaching methods.  With good job evaluations and accolades from numerous former students who found their education outstanding, it has been gut wrenching to be reassigned based on what appears to be phantom due cause.

My reassignment seems to share the same characteristics as the G.W.Bush administration's decisions against cloning stem cells and maintaining the Hubble Telescope.  Bush's constituents that call themselves the religious right are offended by astrophysics (such as the Big Bang and the creation of elements in stars) and molecular biology (including evolution and any modification of God given creatures or plants).  It seems curious that while stifling such research satisfied this group, the administration's justification for their decisions avoided making such a connection.

Discussions with some of the complaining students as well as some of their acquaintances revealed more of what apparently motivated their complaints and resulted in the reassignment:
  1. A small but vocal group of students have claimed to the author that because science conflicts with their religion and that of their parents, no student should not be required to study science.  [The option to avoid studying science has not been openly supported by the School Board.  And religion was not acknowledged by the administration to be a part of any complaint.]
  2. With that option blocked, they claim that any student or parent should be able to choose alternative courses and instructors{Enrollment choice is supported by the School Board and administration but changes after the first week of instruction are forbidden:  After students enroll for desired courses, they may be assigned instructors they don't like.  In an effort to allow alternatives the District refused to implement the science department's recommendation that passing physical science and biology, courses designed to satisfy the State Essential Learning Requirements for science, should be graduation requirements.  Instead the Agriculture teacher was encouraged to create alternate courses that address the Essential Learnings.  Some students believe they have assurance that Floral Design is considered to meet science graduation requirements equivalent to either physical science or biology.]
  3. Some students discovered that if they repeatedly disrupt a class, they would eventually be removed from the class and then assigned to another instructor.
  4. The students whose parents filed the three vague complaints explained that while their requested transfer to more favored instructors was refused, if their parent complained about the teacher's fairness, bias, and inappropriate teaching methods, they were immediately transferred.  Some of these students have admitted and other class members verified that there was no unfairness or bias.  But since no verification of the complaint was required, their claims achieved the transfer goal.
The motivation for students desiring a transfer to another teacher was clouded by other issues:

From a broader perspective, this reassignment may be but a small sign of the pressure on the people who are charged with securing vital funding for public schools.  Voter support for school levies is critical for providing operational funding.  Loss of voter support is disaster for both the success of the District and the continued employment of administrators.  It is essential that schools maintain popularity with both students and more importantly, their voting parents.  In recent decades a part of this popularity has been achieved in some communities by allowing secondary school students to choose the subjects they will enjoy studying rather than require predetermined courses that experts believe will provide valuable skills for adulthood.  As a consequence, many students are allowed and even encouraged to choose classes they believe will be the most fun rather than provide the best education.  To assure parent's affirmative votes it is often thought necessary to satisfy every parent wish.  Therefore when a parent demands that their child be taught by a different teacher, that transfer must be immediate and without question.  Thus, if several parents request their students not be instructed by a particular teacher, then without any additional justification, that teacher should be reassigned or preferably encouraged to resign.  (And in fact the principal offered to organize a big retirement party for me!)


When I was learning to become a teacher, WWSC (now Western Washington University) required the study of other professions and encouraged teachers to assume the obligations of professionals.  Included would be the habit of life-long learning, constantly striving for improvement.  It was hoped that later master teachers would also contribute back to the profession (with efforts such as this web site).  I have found that philosophy of education effective and rewarding.  I have had the privilege to work with administrators who encouraged this view of teaching as a profession.  But in recent years I have also worked for administrators who chose instead to view teaching as a service industry in which the student and parent customers are always right.  The teacher is responsible for individually tailored instructional plans complying with every customer request rather than maximizing instruction of curriculum content and skills in rational sequence.  Thus the student (and parent) customer becomes the expert about their educational needs.  Any teacher can be reassigned to fill any job for which they have minimal certification because content expertise is now of secondary importance.  My perception is this change in philosophy about the roll of education in society is one of the root causes of the well documented decline in education in the United States.

My reassignment hasn't been entirely negative.  The work required to supervise the remedial program and teach mathematics is much less demanding than optimizing the teaching of chemistry and physics.  So this period of my life has the distinct feel of a sabbatical with full pay.  Much of my time has been freed from the routine of reading and evaluating large numbers of experiment reports.  So while I still receive my full salary, I have much free time to work on developing the ie-Science instructional activities on this site for essentially teaching science to the world via the Internet!  So despite evidence that local students are receiving less adequate instruction due to my reassignment, knowing that others elsewhere could benefit is considerable compensation.


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created 10/10/2002
additions 12/21/2003, 3/14/2004, and 9/18/2004
by D Trapp
Mac made