Public Said To Find Science Requirements Too Lax

By Peter West — March 04, 1992 2 min read

WASHINGTON--The American public is concerned about the quality of science and mathematics instruction in public schools and believes that secondary-school students should be required to study more science, according to a federal report on trends in science and engineering.

“The public increasingly believes the quality [of education] to be inadequate and feels that high-school students should be required to take a science course every year,” concludes Science and Engineering Indicators, a 487-page report issued late last month by the National Science Board, the policymaking arm of the National Science Foundation.

The latest edition of the biennial report, the 10th such N.S.F. document, is the first in which measures of the quality of precollegiate education--and the public’s opinions on it--have been featured so prominently.

Previous versions of the document included some data on precollegiate education in addition to information on such topics as the country’s expenditures on scientific research and development in a global context and the condition of academic science research.

But more attention was paid to precollegiate education in this report “in keeping with the policy pre-eminence of school science and mathematics education,” according to an introduction to the report.

The latest edition also contains extensive data on the national performance levels of minority students.

Most of the information on precollegiate achievement is drawn from sources such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress that are already familiar to precollegiate policymakers.

Dissatisfaction With Status Quo

The report, citing several polls and studies on American attitudes toward science and math education, indicates a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the status quo among members of the public, despite a spate of national, state, and local reform initiatives in those subjects.

It notes, for example, that since 1985, the number of American adults who agree with the statement that the “quality of science and mathematics education in America is inadequate’’ has increased from 63 percent to 72 percent.

A separate poll conducted by the Gallup Organization and the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press in 1988 found that 89 percent of adults surveyed said they were “concerned about a decline in the quality of education” in the United States, the report states, with more than half the respondents saying they were “very” concerned.

In answering a similar set of questions the following year, fewer than half of the respondents felt that the United States was either “strong” or “very strong” in “our system of public education,” according to the indicators report. Half of the respondents felt that the country was “weak” or “very weak” compared with other countries in educating its citizens.

The report also cites polls indicating that the public supports more spending on education. Prior to 1977, roughly half the population felt that not enough money was being spent on education, but that figure had risen to 60 percent by 1985 and to 71 percent by 1990, the report says.

The science board concludes that “the American public sees a clear link between education and other national goals.”

Copies of the report are available for $29.00 each from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; stock number 038-000-00587-1.

A version of this article appeared in the March 04, 1992 edition of Education Week as Public Said To Find Science Requirements Too Lax