Mary E. Watson
NC Geological Survey
(919) 733-2424

Project Earth Science

Return to ECSU CESE

Science Education
in North Carolina Schools

as presented by
Mary E. Watson, North Carolina Geological Survey
The following text is excerpted from a presentation delivered by Mary Watson, of the North Carolina Geological Survey office, at the Coalition for Earth Science Education (CESE) annual meeting on January 11th, 2002 at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

15 Years Ago...Back to Top

Earth Science was eliminated from the NC Standard course of Study. A pressure group was formed to change that. This group is called "Education and Industry Committee for Earth Science in North Carolina".

This group is a diverse coalition of scientists from:

  • Business and Industry
  • NC Aggregates Association
  • NCGS
  • Universities - public and private
  • The NC public school system & the NC Department of Education
  • NOAA
  • EPA
  • NC state agencies
  • Consultants

MissionBack to Top

The mission of this group was to assure that NC high school students better understand the importance of earth science and state and environmental issues. By 1998 a deal was made. Implementation was deferred until the 1999-2000 school year when earth science was articulated through grades K-12.

Students' ReactionBack to Top

The variety of experiences and the importance of environmental awareness puts students "miles ahead" of where they would have been just ten years ago:

  • "...there are many days when we do field work on campus."
  • "We go out every day for weather observations."
  • We do a "monthly survey of the beach to track the movement of sand."

Teachers' ReactionBack to Top

  • The new teacher was "a Biology teacher for years and really seems to be enjoying the experience."
  • "Some say they would like to teach only Earth Science."
  • "My students have been gathering haze and cloud data for the CERES project and testing the water quality of a nearby creek."

RealismBack to Top

The downside is that some of the more experienced teachers feel that it takes
time away from Advanced Placement courses they value and they don't want to invest the time in new material.There is an unarticulated need for teacher preparation and concern about testing. It is estimated that a test would take three years to develop and a minimum of $150,000 to create.

Our state presents an interesting dichotomy of being both progressive and inert.We moved to the front with curriculum reforms. We have not moved far enough to support the professional development neccessary to meet needs created by the inovation. We need to look at providing schools with excellent teaching materials.

TestingBack to Top


  • A Good test can promote reform in science teaching.


  • Teachers are already overloaded with testing and testing issues. In North Carolina, the
    earth environmental science course is now the only science without an End of Course test.

First Year SnapshotBack to Top

  • Enrollment for the first school year that the mandated curriculum was in effect: 42,274.
  • Total high school enrollment: 325,452
  • 15% of students were enrolled in earth science the first year

    Enrollment of other required sciences:

    • Biology: 116,133
    • Physical Science: 73,498
  • Teachers assigned to earth science: 795
  • Roughly equal proportion of males and females: 385:410
  • Total number of high school teachers: 4,811
  • 27% are new teachers (under 30)
  • 76% are under 50 (the more vital age group)
    • Research indicates that this group is more likely to seek and benefit from professional development programs.


Partnerships = Reform SuccessBack to Top

  • The power in NC schools rest at the local level
  • We try to show the best ways to accomplish goals, but the choice is theirs.
  • Budget constraints in NC have driven partnership and a creative approach to promotion
  • Agencies will have to play a greater role.
  • CESE is one we want to cultivate, because we believe it is a powerful ally.

How Others See We are Doing.Back to Top

"A model of completeness of good organization. Begins in middle school and conveys a well integrated picture of the historical sciences in grades 9-12."

Lawrence S. Lerner in
Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution in The States
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, September 2000