"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Is there a US science education crisis?

Sent to Science News (June 8) in response to "Confronting a third crisis in US science education," by S. James Gates - http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/58930/title/Comment__Confronting_a_third_crisis_in_U.S._science_education_

Is there a US science education crisis?

"Confronting a third crisis in US science education" (May 22) assumes that there is a real crisis. There are several reasons to doubt this:

- Our science and math test scores are unspectacular, but the problem is not science and math education. Studies show that American students from well-funded schools who come from high-income families outscore all or nearly all other countries on international tests. Only our children in high poverty schools score below the international average. (Payne and Biddle, 1999; Bracey, 2009; Martin, 2009). The US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (25%, compared to Denmark's 3%). Our educational system has been successful; the problem is poverty.

- The US ranks at or near the top of the world on all categories related to science and math education, availability of expertise, and creativity: According to the World Economic Federation, the US ranks 5th out of 133 countries in "availability of scientists & engineers," second in "quality of scientific research institutions" and first in "university-industry research collaboration." The US also ranks sixth out of 133 countries in "capacity for innovation," and third in the number of patents for new inventions per capita, slightly behind Taiwan and Japan. (In contrast, China ranks 50th.)

- There is no shortage of science and technology-trained professionals in the United States. In fact, there is a surplus (Teitelbaum, 2007; Toppo and Vergano, 2009; Bracey, 2009). Gerald Bracey, in fact, concluded that "… the impending shortage of scientists and engineers is one of the longest running hoaxes in the country."

According to Dr. Gates, a major rationale for "fixing" science education is that it's "connected to our country's future economy." According to the World Economic Foundation, the US economy is doing quite well: The US ranks second in the world (out of 133 countries) in "global competitiveness," outranked only by Switzerland.

Stephen Krashen
University of Southern California, Los Angeles


Bracey, G. 2009. Education Hell: Rhetoric Vs. Reality. Alexandra, VA: Educational Research Service.
Martin, M. 2009. Eggs or eggheads: Which does the U.S. economy really need? Arizona School Boards Journal, Winter. Available at: http://www.susanohanian.org/show_commentary.php?id=688
Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13.
Teitelbaum, M. 2007. Testimony before the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC, November 6, 2007
Toppo, G. and Vergano, D. 2009. Scientist shortage? Maybe not. USA Today, August 9, 2009

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