Nation’s Science Report Card
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
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:
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
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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