Many educators and employers liken the state of science education today to a chemistry project gone awry: A bad mix of factors has come together--and it spells trouble.

By law, making students better at reading and math is the nation's priority, at least for now. When it comes to science, however, a quiet crisis is engulfing schools, say many scientists, educators, business leaders, and entrepreneurs.

It begins when young students skip challenging science courses. Later, it produces an understaffed or ill-trained corps of science instructors. The result is lagging U.S. performance...

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