Guide to the Cosmos Newsletter


"The Dark Side of the Universe - Dark Matter and Dark Energy"

What we know, and what we don't know, about the Dark Side
Thursday Feb 10th at 7:30 pm
Baxter Auditorium
1 Baxter Way

Westlake Village, California
off Lakeview Canyon Rd.(between TO Blvd. and HWY 101)


Nation’s Science Report Card


In January, 20111, the U.S. government released the Assessment of Educational Progress for science achievement in 2009 for students in grades 4, 8, and 12. Assessments are released periodically for various disciplines, not just science, and are commonly called “The Nation’s Report Card.”


This report highlights the challenge America faces in developing the next generation of world-class scientists to keep our nation competitive.


Discussing our Science Report Card may not be as much fun as talking about supernovas and neutrinos, but it is a vitally important issue.


The U.S. was once the world-leader in science education. But now, according to the New York Times, American students rank in the bottom one-third of developed nations in international science tests. We are 27th in the percentage of college graduates majoring in science or engineering. Former astronaut Dr. Sally Ride says half of the graduate students in American universities are foreign citizens who return to their native countries after getting Masters and Doctorate degrees, largely at U.S. taxpayer expense. She adds that China is graduating four times as many engineers as we are.


In our current economic circumstances, it’s unrealistic to expect substantially increased funding for education. But, that’s all the more reason to ensure we’re smart in spending money and managing this very important activity.


To maintain a world-leading economy and military, we should focus more of our limited resources educating our children in disciplines that will most benefit both them and society. Science and engineering graduates are far more likely to get well-paid jobs than many other disciplines, and their discoveries and innovations will build the nation’s wealth and create many more jobs for others. Success in science and technology is possible for everyone with sufficient interest and determination, regardless of gender, race and ethnicity. We should show our youth that science can be fun, exciting, and worth their serious effort.


We can do far better in science education, even with current funding.


What follows is my summary of the most salient aspects of this 80-page report.


The Nation’s Science Report Card is based on national tests geared for each grade level. Scores are “normalized” such that the average student’s score is 150 points at each grade level. The government defines three performance levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced.


Of all 12th grade students,

  • 1% were deemed Advanced
  • 20% were Proficient
  • 39% achieved the Basic level
  • 40% scored below Basic


The report compares scores by race in these terms: for 8th grade students:

  • 162  Whites
  • 160  Asians
  • 132  Hispanics
  • 126  Blacks


By type of school, in 8th grade:

  • 165  private (excluding Catholic)
  • 163  Catholic schools
  • 162  Department of Defense (DoD)
  • 149  public schools


The report does not provide the percentage of low-income or minority students in private schools, which are important factors.


Who is best educating our future American scientists?


Would you believe the Armed Forces and Texas?


Topping overall scores for public school 8th graders are:

  • 162  DoD and North Dakota
  • 161  South Dakota
  • 160  New Hampshire and Massachusetts

compared to

  • 150  Texas
  • 149  U.S. public school average


But this may be misleading.

  • Nationally, 37% of public school students are Blacks or Hispanics, who on average scored 32 points lower than Whites and Asians. 
  • In Massachusetts, the percentage of Blacks and Hispanics is only half the national average, and in North Dakota, South Dakota and New Hampshire it is only one-tenth.
  • On the other hand, these minorities are 37% of reporting students in DoD schools, and 59% in Texas.


DoD schools are very likely our nation’s best. In each major racial category, DoD students substantially outperform students of the same race in every state

  • DoD White students are #1 among Whites
  • DoD Black students are #1 among Blacks
  • DoD Hispanic students are #1 among Hispanics.

Texas was not far behind DoD in each racial category. Texas spends $6746 per pupil per year on education, ranking 35th in the nation.


What about the Golden State? In California:

  • Whites were 5 points below the U.S. average for Whites, 3rd worst in the nation
  • Blacks were 7 points below all Blacks, 5th worst
  • Hispanics were 9 points below their U.S. average, by far the worst in the nation
  • Asians matched the U.S. average for Asians.
  • Overall, California scored 137, 2nd worst in the nation, better only than Mississippi.

In California public schools, 28% are White, 6% Black, 51% Hispanic, and 13% Asian. California spends $7511 per pupil per year on education, ranking 23rd. (Remember, Texas spends $6746 per pupil).


While 42% of all Californians are White, they represent only 28% of public school students. Clearly many affluent White Californians are abandoning public schools. It does not bode well for public education that so many taxpayers have no personal stake in its future.


Other important factors are income and parental education.

  • Nationally, 48% of students who qualify for free school lunches scored 133 versus 161 for those from wealthier families.
  • City school students scored 142, while suburban and rural students both scored 154.
  • Students whose parents did not finish high school scored 131 versus 161 for those whose parents graduated from college.


Gender differences were much smaller: males outscored females by 2 points in the 4th grade, 4 points in the 8th grade, and 6 points in the 12th grade.


So, what are our elected leaders great strategies to deal with poor test scores, not just in science but in all subjects?


Their plan seems to be: Stop Testing!


Per yesterday’s LA Times, “Democrats say the testing overloads the school day and is an unfair way to judge teachers, one of the party’s principal interest groups.” “Republicans object to the act’s prominent federal role.” While tea party supporters “want to abolish the Department of Education altogether.”



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Dr. Robert Piccioni
Author of "Everyone's Guide to Atoms, Einstein, and the Universe"
and "Can Life Be Merely An Accident?"