An Impressive Assist for Schools

Reduce class size. Use ballot initiatives to guarantee school funding. Raise test scores.

Improving education is at the top of today's lists of goals. Last week, Orange County inventor and entrepreneur Arnold O. Beckman provided an impressive assist, announcing that his foundation will provide $14.4 million in grants over five years to improve science education in the county's public elementary schools.

Beckman is 98 but clearly remembers what kindled his interest in science. At age 10, he found a chemistry book in the attic of the family home in Illinois and persuaded his father to let him convert a tool shed into a makeshift chemistry lab. He went on to get a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and a doctorate in photochemistry. He holds numerous patents, including one for a meter that measures acidity. His inventions and business career brought him wealth that he has shared generously. His foundation has provided more than $300 million in grants for education and research.

In announcing the grant, Beckman said he finds science "extremely interesting" and wants to stimulate that interest in young people. The grant will provide for several initiatives, including an important one to train science teachers. Two dozen elementary school teachers will receive two years of extensive training. Their task will be to serve as science mentors for other instructors. Their monthly training sessions will be held at Cal State Fullerton, which is administering the Beckman Foundation grant.

County school districts will receive grants to buy equipment and textbooks for science classes. The goal is to demystify science and make it a core subject in elementary school that will prompt a desire for scientific exploration to last throughout the school years and later.

Foundation officials said they also want to involve parents, urging them to press their children's schools to improve science education. That's important. As children see their parents are interested in their education, they are likely to increase their own efforts. And parental involvement should be encouraged not just in the field of science but across the academic spectrum. It's an important component of the campaign to improve California schools.

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