"Nearly a quarter of a century ago," a new National Science
Board (NSB) report begins, an NSB Commission on Precollege Education
assessed the state of K-12 science and math education "and found
it wanting. In the intervening years, we have failed to raise the achievement
of U.S. students commensurate with the goal articulated by that Commission
that U.S. precollege achievement should be best in the
world by 1999.'" By the time U.S. students reach their senior year,
the report continues, "even the most advanced U.S. students perform
at or near the bottom on international assessments."
The report, entitled "America's Pressing Challenge Building
a Stronger Foundation," was released in February as a companion
to the NSB's "Science and Engineering Indicators 2006." It
notes that U.S. precollege student performance on international comparisons
has continued "to slip further behind." It also points out
that "U.S. student completion of natural science and engineering
(NS&E) degrees" is declining "relative to other countries"
while scientific and engineering occupations "are expected to continue
to grow more rapidly than occupations in general, with a projected 70
percent greater increase [or 1.25 million additional science and engineering
jobs] by 2012."
Not only has student achievement on international comparisons slipped,
the report says, but "over the last decade, teacher salaries have
remained nearly flat
. Teacher salaries averaged $44,367, just
about $2,598 above what they were in 1972 (after adjusting for inflation),"
and 15 states "saw real declines in average teachers' salaries
between the 1993-94 and 2003-04 school years, adjusted for inflation."
The NSB report outlines a number of challenges to improving K-12 science
and math education, including inequality in students' access to high-quality
science and math education; a paucity of teachers who have the necessary
knowledge and skills to effectively teach these subjects; inadequate
teacher compensation and professional development to attract, prepare
and retain high-quality teachers; a need to improve educational technologies;
and the importance of ensuring that assessments measure problem-solving
skills and not just memorization. "Experience has shown us,"
the report says, that "what gets measured gets taught
assessments must measure more than simple recall.... Measurements should
support student learning that enhances the application of knowledge."
The report makes the following recommendations:
GAIN PUBLIC SUPPORT: Ensure that school administrators and other education
"gate-keepers" value science and math skills and knowledge
for all; Educate the general public to recognize the importance of adequate
compensation for precollege science and math teachers; and Inform the
public to increase knowledge of, and appreciation for, the importance
of science and technology to economic prosperity, and national security,
and the quality of life.
DEVELOP AND RETAIN A HIGH QUALITY MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE TEACHING
PROFESSION: Provide new teachers with induction programs for retention
and development; Provide resources to compensate them "comparably
to similarly trained S&E professionals"; Provide quality, sustained
teacher professional development experiences; Encourage higher education
leaders to review and strengthen K-8 teacher education programs by increasing
content knowledge; and Invest in continued research on teaching and
PROVIDE STUDENTS APPROPRIATE OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN: Devote equal time
to reading, math and science, especially in elementary grades, and use
hands-on inquiry experiences in science; Provide educators with effective
strategies and instructional materials; Alert students to STEM career
opportunities at an early age and expand incentives for them to enter
those fields; and Involve parents, community and business organizations,
and informal science educators in enhancing science and math experiences
for K-12 students.
PREPARE GUIDANCE COUNSELORS TO PROVIDE QUALITY CAREER GUIDANCE: Ensure
that guidance counselors have the necessary training and knowledge to
provide students with information about science, math, engineering and
USE ASSESSMENTS TO REINFORCE LEARNING: Improve science and math assessments
to demonstrate students' thinking ability and problem-solving skills;
Use technology simulations to enable students to "demonstrate understanding
of experimental design so that assessments are not just recall of information";
and Develop among teachers and administrators expertise in utilizing
assessments "to inform and improve teaching and learning."
"We know," the report concludes, "that there is a need
to make drastic changes within the Nation's science and mathematics
classrooms. If not, our Nation risks raising generations of students
and citizens who do not know how to think critically and make informed
decisions based on technical and scientific information."
The February 2006 National Science Board report and the Science and
Engineering Indicators can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/;
for the report, see "America's Pressing Challenge Building
a Stronger Foundation," at the upper right of the page.
In related news, Warren Washington, chairman of the National Science
Board, sent a letter on behalf of the Board to Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN),
commenting on Gordon's recently introduced legislation, "10,000
Teachers, 10 Million Minds Science and Math Scholarship Act." Gordon
is Ranking Minority Member of the House Science Committee. Washington's
letter notes that the bill is consistent with many of the Board's reports
and policy statements over the past decade. "The Board strongly
supports the general objectives of the proposed legislation with regard
to the precollege STEM teaching workforce," says the letter.