Talented Science Students Ignored, Poll Finds

October 10, 1984 2 min read

Schools are overlooking a significant number of U.S. high-school students who are talented in science or mathematics, according to a survey of high-school educators by Science Service and the Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

Some 612 educators--primarily counselors and science and mathematics teachers--in 43 states responded to the 1984 survey. All of the educators surveyed had requested information about Westinghouse’s Science Talent Search, a scholarship competition for high-school seniors.

Laboratory Work

More talented students would pursue careers in science and engineering if they could engage in laboratory work and independent research while in high school, according to at least 70 percent of the respondents.

More than half agreed that schools need to emphasize mathematics and science more in the early grades and that students’ outstanding accomplishments and achievements in those fields should be rewarded in some way.

Sixty percent of the educators also agreed that good science and mathematics teachers should be rewarded with the chance to engage in university or laboratory work, with a stipend.

“Only 23 percent of the respondents indicated that there were new programs available locally to encourage students in math and science,” noted E.G. Sherburne Jr., director of Science Service. “Perhaps this partially explains why 57 percent of the educators agreed that the revival of interest in science education will not approach that following Sputnik.”

‘Science Is Too Hard’

Respondents cited several reasons students become permanently discouraged about their science and mathematics abilities: because teachers at the elementary-school level are not adequately prepared (cited by 57 percent); science laboratories in the higher grades are underfunded (62 percent) and science and mathematics departments are understaffed (53 percent); and because students’ reading skills are inadequate, impeding their mathematics and science studies (46 percent).

Mr. Sherburne added: “Based on the additional comments provided by the educators, there is a perception by some youngsters--as well as by their peers and parents--that science is too hard, too demanding. The respondents also noted that the special emphasis on good grades for college admission and concerns with grade-point averages serve as a deterrent for potential science/math majors and dampen parental encouragement.”

Eight out of 10 respondents in the survey teach in the public schools. On average, they have taught for more than 16 years. More than 75 percent have master’s degrees and an additional 8 percent have doctorates.--lo

A version of this article appeared in the October 10, 1984 edition of Education Week as Talented Science Students Ignored, Poll Finds