Bruce Alberts on Improving Science Education in the U.S.
  Bruce Alberts     Biography    
Recorded: 22 Aug 2008

I mean the reason why I decided to be, take that job and leave my lab which I really didn’t want to do again… when they called me to ask me if I wanted to do this. Nine months before they offered me the job I said, no, don’t consider me for this job, because I didn’t want to leave science. But they made me feel guilty because I had often for many years had been working on science education. And I went to the Academy because I saw it as a unique chance to bring the best scientists and the best of science to bear on science education for everyone at all levels. In fact, we were in the middle of doing the famous National Science Education Standards. This huge effort that took us till… take us…started in 1991 and we didn’t finish until 1995. It went out to 18,000 reviewers; it was just an enormous effort. And I spent half my time of my first two years working on that, actually. Actually writing things and working. It’s not normal for an Academy President. And I think we had a lot of momentum going, you know, changing definition of science education, bringing teachers and science educators and science education researchers together with scientists. You know sort of build new bridges. And we had a lot of momentum going. I’m quite disappointed we didn’t accomplish very much. "No Child Left Behind" came afterwards. All the testing and reading and math has driven science out of schools. I have nothing against accountability. But if you have accountability with the wrong kind of science tests, as we are getting in most states today, you ruin science education. So I think we have not made much progress despite all the great effort the Academy made. The Academy published something like 150 education reports in those twelve years I was there. Many are very good reports about how people learn, how to get good research done on education by embedding it in school systems, something called the Strategic Education Research Partnership, the science standards. There was a lot of good things said of reports on how to change college science, how to change the AP exams. Well, so I’m still working on this. But you asked what was disappointing about the experience that, although we did a lot of work, a lot of good things in science education, the nation’s science education system has not responded appropriately.

Narrator: Is it possible for the future, or wait ’til after we change the President?

Well, I don’t think it’s the President. It’s more than that. I mean its the simplicity with which we treat education. As if it’s a, you know, a simple thing. It’s a very complex thing. And we don’t take it seriously enough, and we don’t get enough outstanding people to go into it/ We don’t have the right leadership. But, you know, young people…I’m inspired by the fact that, Teach For America, for example, which I strongly support and was on a national board for a while. That idea that could actually happen in the United States. That a college senior with a thesis idea could get funding from various corporations and elsewhere to start this crazy Teach For America idea. And now that there’s such upswelling of interest in doing that kind of national service by young people, I’m really optimistic about. Ten percent of the Caltech class applying to be Teach For America teachers. I mean this is incredible. So that’s the opportunity we have is to exploit that idealism of young people andanyway I haven’t given up, I’m still working on this.

Bruce Alberts, currently Editor-in-chief of Science, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysic at the University of California and United States Science Envoy. He received A.B. (1960) in Biochemical Science from Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Ph.D. (1965) from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1966 he joined Department of Chemistry at the Princeton University and after 10 years he became professor and vice chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysic at the UCSF.

Alberts work is best known for his work on the protein complexes that allow chromosomes to be replicated. He is one of the authors of The Molecular Biology of the Cell, a major textbook in the field. He served two-six years terms as a president of National Academy of Science (1993-2005). During his administration at NAS, he was involved in developing the landmark of National Science Education standards.

Among many honors and awards (16 honorary degrees), he is Co-chair of the InterAcademy Council and a trustee of Gordon and Betty Moore Fundation.

More Information: Wikipedia, UCSF