Study Suggests There's No Place Like Home for Math and Science
Science educators who focus reforms solely on what happens in schools may find their efforts do little good, a national study suggests.
The study shows that students who learn the most mathematics and science in high school are those whose parents are well educated and encourage their children to attend college.
In addition, homes where such learning resources as computers, globes, and telescopes are present produce the highest-achieving math and science students.
Even parents who are not college-educated can provide resources at home and instill in their children a desire to learn, the study found.
The data come from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, a seven-year study of 6,000 public school students nationwide.
Half the students were in 7th grade when the study began in 1987; the others were in 10th grade.
Each fall, the students took math and science tests based on items from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and completed a questionnaire.
The researchers also interviewed the students and their parents, teachers, and principals.
The researchers gathered about 7,000 variables on each student in the study.
They made their first major report on all the data here last week during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The students scored better when their parents controlled their television viewing, monitored how they use their time, and assigned them various household chores, said Jon D. Miller, the vice president of the Chicago Academy of Science and a principal investigator in the study.
The study also looked at tracking and ability grouping of students and found that students who were assigned to the lowest tracks in math and science classes did the poorest on achievement tests, said Tom Hoffer of the National Opinion Research Center.
Students in suburban schools had a considerable advantage over those in urban or rural ones, Mr. Miller said.
The suburban students scored higher on the achievement tests in 9th grade and showed greater increases by 12th grade than students elsewhere.
School districts can do three things to improve science achievement and literacy, Mr. Miller said.
First, they can require more math and science courses.
"By not requiring these courses, we send a secondary message" that they are too difficult, Mr. Miller said.
Second, the school districts can start requiring beginning algebra in middle school, not high school, he said.
"The earlier a student takes algebra, the bigger the advantage," Mr. Miller said.
Finally, Mr. Miller said, middle schools should hire guidance counselors.
"By the 11th grade, the decision is not whether to go to college, but which one," Mr. Miller said. "The decision of whether to go to college is made in 6th grade."
But schools also need to pay attention to parents.
"We must recognize and accept that parent influence is here to stay and begin to think creatively about ways to improve the functioning of parents within the system," Mr. Miller said.