The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

The State of U.S. Science Education: Not Good

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 27, 2012

It seems that in the United States we could be doing a much better job of teaching our young people about science (big surprise there).  However, it doesn’t become apparent just how troublesome the situation is until you take a look at the standards for public science education laid down by the states.  One look at this map gives you some idea of the challenge we face…

Image from Your State Sucks at Science

The well respected Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which regularly tracks issues related to science and education, has provided a summary of the survey of state science standards.  You can read more about their summary, as well as a breakdown of the standards state-by-state, here…

American science performance is lagging as the economy becomes increasingly high tech, but  our current science standards are doing little to solve the problem. Reviewers evaluated science standards for every state for this report and their findings were deeply troubling: The majority of states earned Ds or Fs for their standards in this crucial subject, with only six jurisdictions receiving As. Explore all the state report cards and see how your state performed. [emphasis added]

This is particularly problematic because the 21st century is going to be one of intensifying competition between the United States and developing nations such as China and India.  If we cannot (or will not) beef up our science education then we are only hurting ourselves in the long run.

Why is it that the U.S., the most powerful and technologically advanced nation (so far) on the planet, seems to have this weird relationship with science where we appear to almost disdain it?  My thoughts on that in a future blog post…

7 Responses to “The State of U.S. Science Education: Not Good”

  1. From my personal experience with CT’s science standards (which pulled a not-so-hot “C”), I’m well aware the standards aren’t so great. However, I question how far improving standards will really go to improving the scientific literacy of our graduates.

    The main reason I feel this way is because of how our system assesses “scientific literacy.” The primary assessment is through multiple choice tests that cover a large swath of information. If we really want our students to be scientifically literate, our classrooms need to be places where students can spend time engaging in their own investigations, thus learning about scientific inquiry and curiosity firsthand.

    Today many teachers feel they need to get through “covering” all the standards for their grade level so students will do well on the test and the relatively time consuming activities that aren’t tested much (like understanding how to actually do science) get cut. I wrote more about this in a recent post on this exact same report.

    Perhaps the problem is less the standards and more how we choose as a society to assess our students’ understanding of science. What do you think?

    • William Townend said

      I agree that standards are not the answer. Education in this country needs to pay more attention to depth of understand and less on breath of topics covered. This is an opinion of those concerned with international testing. Tests are also incomplete measures of what educational outcomes need to do.

      We need to individualize education to increase learning. It will be done, but the sooner public education puts time and effort to bring the needed technology into the school the less time students will lose.

  2. Sadly, the US seems to have given up scientific competition. One thing I’ve been impressed with, though, is how the US has “cooperated” with other nations such as Russia and China in space research. We’ve had many collaborative projects with other countries, which I think is even better than being competitive. Science has competitiveness built in, yet now, because of our lack of interest, our lack of initiative and drive, we have to hitch rides into space via the Russians. Very cool we have that relationship, but very sad that we’ve let science fall through the cracks.

    With our failing education, our failing science programs and curiosity, what’s going to happen to our technologies and industry? We can’t have a solid tech industry without our young being properly educated, without their scientific inquired being stimulated, and without strong scientific curiosity.

    On top of that, an ugly film of religious coocooism is suffocating our nation. Our egos have outgrown our intelligence. All this together may cause the US to slip into the dark ages and become the Land of the Dumb.

    I’m encouraged by Obama’s recent talk of turning to green energy and technologies, turning away from oil. But damn I wish he’d given NASA more. I wish he’d put more attention on science and math education in this country. Maybe if he gets another term he can turn to these issues more fully.

  3. This shows just how bad the education system in the U.S. has gotten. This map could probably be used to depict the state of all subjects, not just science. We need to find a way to change the way we determine “intelligence” in our children. I personally think that No Child Left Behind not only caused a good portion of this problem, but also seems to represent it. I still don’t see how the idea that every student should be an A student would only make the average higher was missed by so many people when that bill was written.

    Anyway, I think that changing the entire system is the only long term solution. Anything else we do would only be putting a band aid on a broken leg.

    • I agree that rethinking education would be the best way forward. It’s a fun exercise to try to design schools and the system in which we live if we were starting from scratch today. I think there would be a lot of creative and interesting ways forward that would be improvements on our current system.

      Unfortunately, there’s a lot of systemic inertia, if you will. On top of that, legislated “reforms” often focus more on simplistic changes that are easy to implement and sound good when running for re-election. Real change requires a more subtle understanding of the complexities of the problem, and understanding that you can’t expect simplistic changes made by uninformed parties to effect positive reforms.

      • It really is a lot of fun trying to think of how the education system can be built from scratch. That’s actually been a pet project of mine for about a year now. I think that the two best ways to go about these changes are:

        A: getting a team of people with knowledge of the different aspects of education. This would include teachers, administrators, and psychologists to build the learning environment as well as architects, city planers, and landscape architects to build the physical environment.

        B: Creating private schools and universities with the same admission standards of the public/state schools so that anyone could get in with little financial problems. If the school is successful enough, the hope would be that the system would be recognized for what it is and eventually policy would change the public education to match the private schools built by these teams.

        Now this is all speculation and hope. But I personally think that this method will be the one I will work with if I ever get the opportunity.

  4. kelly said

    Our country is filled to the brim with excellent teachers who devote their lives and personal money to their classrooms! The problem with our education system is holding students accountable for learning. I am a high school teacher and most Americans (especially politicians) would be absolutely shocked to teach high school classes! Students simply DO NOT CARE if they learn or not, they DO NOT CARE if they graduate or not. No one in our society (not even their own parents) hold them accountable for NOT LEARNING,NOT TRYING, NOT CARING! One part of education is TEACHING, but the other part it LEARNING. I have spent hours upon hours preparing lessons and literally thousands of my own dollars in a school year to only have students sit there and stare at the floor, etc. Other cultures do not tolerate this behavior. Everyone goes on and on about how advanced the Chinese education system is. Have we forgotten that the “kids who stare at the floor” are sent to the farm and their education is taken from them? Chinese do not play around. They do not tolerate students who do not care if they learn or not. They send them to the farm to work. I have students who tell me they are just “hanging” out in the school building until they turn 18 so that their mama get’s her check from the government. They have told me that they do not plan to graduate. Instead, they sit in the school, stare at the floor, learn absolutely nothing–while an outstanding teacher is trying to teach them and they bring our test scores down across America as a result! I wish we could send these students home with a set of books and tell the family that they can “homeschool” paid for by the government, but the tax payers are no longer paying for this student to come to school, create disruptions in the building, and sit in our classrooms doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING but talking and distracting other students in our classes when they have NO DESIRE TO LEARN OR ACHIEVE ANYTHING IN LIFE BUT DRAW A CHECK FROM THE GOVERNMENT!

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