Teacher Preparation

Studies Suggest Science Education Neglected

By Michelle Galley — May 19, 2004 4 min read

Nearly a third of the nation’s elementary pupils are taught science less than three times a week, at a time when high school and college students’ interest in obtaining a college degree in the natural sciences or engineering is flagging, two reports reveal.

Read “The Bayer Facts of Science Education X: Are the Nation’s Colleges and Universities Adequately Preparing Elementary Schoolteachers of Tomorrow to Teach Science?,” from The Bayer Corp. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“Science and Engineering Indicators 2004,” is available from the National Science Foundation.

In contrast, children in grades K-5 are more likely to learn mathematics and English on a daily basis than they are science, according to “The Bayer Facts of Science Education X: Are the Nation’s Colleges and Universities Adequately Preparing Elementary Schoolteachers of Tomorrow to Teach Science?”

The survey which marks the 10th year of such reports on science educationof elementary teachers and education college deans, conducted on behalf of the Philadelphia-based Bayer Corp., was released last week.

The second report is an annual study by the National Science Foundation, unveiled this month.

Effect on Students

A majority of the elementary teachers surveyed for the Bayer report said they believe that science should be given the same emphasis as English and math. Still, many acknowledged that they weren’t well-prepared in their preservice courses to teach the subject. Only 18 percent gave their training an A.

Teacher Prep

That lack of teacher training has a direct effect on the way students learn, or fail to learn, science, according to Susan Doubler, a project director at TERC, a nonprofit education research and development organization based in Cambridge, Mass.

“Teachers need a good understanding of the concepts of science,” said Ms. Doubler, who is putting together an online science education master’s program for elementary and middle school teachers. “Their understanding leads to improved student understanding.”

Only 7 percent of the deans who were surveyed for the report said they were “very confident” that elementary school pupils are receiving a good science education. More than half, 56 percent, said they were a “little confident” or “not confident” at all.

Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation outlined the outlook for “Science and Engineering Indicators 2004,” this year’s edition prepared for the president of the United States.

The proportion of U.S. citizens who are qualified to fill science and engineering jobs is stagnating, while competition for foreigners to fill those positions is increasing, says the well-regarded report, which covers national and international science and engineering trends in education, the labor force, and the global marketplace.

In part, the reason for the leveling-off in the United States is that fewer high school and college students are seeking natural science and engineering degrees. In 1975, the United States ranked third in the world in the percentage of students pursuing such degrees. Now, it is 17th, according to the NSF report.

Need for a Sputnik

An increasing number of reports and surveys are saying the same thing, said Gerry Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, based in Arlington, Va. “There is a huge wake-up call out there,” he said. “But no one is picking up the phone.”

The United States needs to make science education a higher priority, especially in the earlier grades, he asserted. “We need another Sputnik,” he said, referring to the 1957 launch of the satellite that was seen as an alarming sign of Soviet superiority in science. Subsequently, U.S. policymakers pressed schools to increase their emphasis on science and math.

Early science preparation for students “is so important to their future choices in high schools and in their careers,” Mr. Wheeler said.

Grabbing students’ attention early so they will be more interested in pursuing science careers later was one reason the Bayer survey focused on elementary teachers, said Rebecca Lucore, the executive director of the Philadelphia-based Bayer Foundation, an arm of the pharmaceutical company. “We need to increase our science pipeline,” she said.

Between March 10 and April 2, researchers with Market Research Institute Inc., in Mission, Kan., conducted telephone interviews with 1,000 teachers of grades K- 5 who had been in the classroom between three and five years. The Bayer survey has a margin of error of 3 percent.

In addition, the researchers interviewed 250 deans of colleges of education, also by telephone. The results from that survey have a margin of error of 7 percent.

Most of the deans and teachers, 95 percent and 93 percent, respectively, reported that inquiry-based science lessons, which include hands-on activities, are the most effective way of teaching the subject because they engage students in the lessons.

“There is a shift happening” away from traditional, textbook-based science education, Ms. Lucore said. “But, like any education reform, it takes time.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 2004 edition of Education Week as Studies Suggest Science Education Neglected

Events

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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

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

Teacher Preparation The Complicated, Divisive Work of Grading Teacher-Preparation Programs
As the two national accreditors for teacher-preparation programs evolve, the battle over market share heats up.
9 min read
Illustration of checkmark
Getty
Teacher Preparation Remote Learning Is Changing Schools. Teacher-Preparation Programs Have to Adjust
For schools to leverage lessons learned during the pandemic, new teachers need better training on how to work in online environments.
8 min read
A teacher tries to keep up with her technology training
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teacher Preparation Opinion Far Too Many Educators Aren’t Prepared to Teach Black and Brown Students
Teacher-prep programs can help address that inadequacy, writes Sharif El-Mekki.
5 min read
A group of multicolored people stand together looking in both directions
Ada DaSilva/DigitalVision Vectors<br/>
Teacher Preparation Teachers Can Take on Anti-Racist Teaching. But Not Alone
Teachers want to do better by their students of color, but many don’t know how. Madeline Will examines the gap between intention and action.
3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
Illustration by Jamiel Law