To the Editor:
Your July 13 News in Brief section included a summary of the recently released report from the National Research Council on the need to place the same amount of emphasis on science as math (“NRC: Put Science on Par With Math,” Education Week, July 13, 2011). Unfortunately, as the report indicates, science education suffers from benign neglect and is not treated equally. Data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, confirm this sentiment: In the United States, on average, 4th graders are provided 4.2 hours per week of instruction in mathematics, while the science instruction they receive is allotted only 2.7 hours each week.
When one examines the classroom instruction time devoted to science as a percent of total instructional time across countries in 4th grade, one finds that the United States is below such countries as Armenia, Austria, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, El Salvador, Germany, Iran, Japan, Singapore, Slovenia, and Yemen.
The challenge is how to find more time for science while at the same time covering the reading and math demands that are part of the No Child Left Behind assessment parameters. The recent adoption of common-core state standards may provide a pathway for this transition in two ways.
First, the document clearly indicates the importance and need for our students to read a much greater percentage of nonfiction text. Part of the reading instructional time could be allocated to reading science, thus accomplishing two important objectives at once. Second, the two Race to the Top-funded testing consortia are embarking on plans to test higher-order skills, and science could and should play a larger role in this effort.
A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2011 edition of Education Week as Research Underscores Science-Learning Shortfall