Leadership Symposium Early Bird Deadline Approaching | Join K-12 leaders nationwide for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration! Discounted pricing ends March 1. Register today.
Science

Make Science Education Better, More Equitable, Says National Panel

By Sarah D. Sparks — July 13, 2021 3 min read
Illustration of father and child working on computer.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Without stronger and more equitable science education, the United States could lose its competitive place in the global economy and struggle to cope with future crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was the consensus in a new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, which calls for both federal and local efforts to overhaul K-12 science instruction across the nation. Among other recommendations, the report calls for federal and state policymakers to include science in state and federal accountability systems with reading and math and to develop “STEM opportunity” maps and report cards to pinpoint inequities between communities in funding, teachers, and other resources for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The report echoes other recent national studies that have found shrinking time for science instruction in schools, particularly in low-income and high-minority communities. Nationwide, the report notes, elementary students spend on average only 20 minutes per day on science instruction, compared to 60 minutes daily for math and 90 minutes each day for reading and language arts. And from school to school, students have unequal access to entire courses of core science topics.

That may be one reason for the results on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress in science. As of 2019, more than a quarter of 4th graders, a third of 8th graders, and more than 40 percent of 12th graders failed to meet even basic achievement on the science test.

Nancy Hopkins-Evans, a member of the report committee, said efforts to increase the number of students going into STEM fields have often focused on developing programs to get students excited about the field, “but I think we’ve neglected the foundational importance of science,” Hopkins-Evans said.

“The framework for K-12 science education sets out for us a coherent set of concepts that are supposed to be taught from K to 12 that build in rigor and complexity over years and years of education,” she said. “But without that foundational and fundamental education in science, it makes it very difficult ... for people to end up having STEM careers and for having a democracy that functions on being able to use evidence, to be able to use arguments, to be able to think critically and make decisions that are either related to science or science-based.”

More than a year of the public watching scientists’ evolving understanding of the pandemic and the current effort to develop and distribute vaccines to fight it might help policymakers gain momentum to improve support and accountability for science education, said Margaret Honey, the chairwoman of the committee that wrote the report.

“I think for so many people ... we’ve learned a lot about how science works—that science is very much a process that builds on knowledge and information, and as information increases, it is validated or not over time, and your assertions are going to change based on that,” Honey said. “For better or for worse, we’ve seen all that play out in real time over the last year.”

Among the committee’s recommendations:

  • Science achievement should be included as an accountability measure both in the next iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act at the federal level and in state accountability systems.
  • STEM advocates, including scientists, industry groups, and professional organizations, should partner with education groups to push for more support for science education.
  • The federal government should release an annual report card to highlight both the state of K-16 science education and differences in achievement, resources, and opportunities provided for science instruction from state to state, based on income and race.
Related Tags:

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Science Opinion High-Quality Science Instruction Should Be 3-Dimensional. Here's What That Looks Like
Cookie-cutter lab assignments that ask students to follow explicit instructions to reach the "right" conclusion limit learning.
Spencer Martin
4 min read
Screen Shot 2024 02 07 at 1.23.09 PM
Canva
Science The NAEP Science Exam Is Getting a Major Update. Here's What to Expect
For the first time in 20 years, "the nation's report card" is updating how it gauges students' understanding of science.
4 min read
Yuma Police Department forensic technician Heidi Heck shows students in Jonathan Bailey's fifth grade science class at Barbara Hall Elementary School how fingerprints show up under a special light during a presentation about forensic science on March 1, 2023.
Yuma Police Department forensic technician Heidi Heck shows students in Jonathan Bailey's fifth grade science class at Barbara Hall Elementary School how fingerprints show up under a special light during a presentation about forensic science on March 1, 2023.
Randy Hoeft/The Yuma Sun via AP
Science Opinion STEM Is Failing People of Color. What Educators Can Do
Students, especially students of color, need fresh incentives to pursue the fields, explains a STEM professor.
Ebony O. McGee
5 min read
Illustration of a scientist holding a giant test tube.
iStock/Getty + Vanessa Solis/Education Week
Science This District Hopes Seeing What AI Can Do Will Spur More Students to Take Computer Science
Districts including Florida's Broward County put an AI twist on coding activities during an annual computer science event.
2 min read
Students creating programs while using laptop
E+ / Getty