We both were judges for the Pennsylvania high school science competition today. We have done this before, and it's a way to take the pulse of American science education. The diagnosis is not so good. The patient is not that far from needing life support. Not many students were involved, even in a big state. They were trying hard, in interesting projects by and large, but many showed a lack of rigorous study design understanding, and many were clearly set up by parents or teachers....or by fancy summer jobs their parents were able to arrange for them, in which they did something they clearly didn't understand very well. Even parental help is OK if our objective is to improve American science, starting at an early age. But many are being left behind; for example, there were no underserved minority students in our sessions.
On the slightly brighter side is that one person among the judges had a BS degree in molecular biology, and is training to become a teacher. Three cheers for her! Let there be more. Also, the organizer is a Dr Dave Kleindienst, who has been dedicating his energies to supporting student science for decades. Every community has one or two of people like him, but what this country needs is a hundred times as many. So, let's encourage bright people including some of our graduate students, to become science teachers!