Nation's Science Teachers Register Concern over U.S. Science Education in New Survey
Comment on Accuracy of TIMSS Report
NEW HAVEN, CT., April 19, 1999—U.S. science teachers responsible for educating students in kindergarten through high school sent out a warning today about the state of science education and whether students will be adequately prepared for the challenges of the next century.
That is according to a new survey released by Bayer Corporation and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), whose members called the poor performance of U.S. middle and high school students in the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) an accurate reflection of student performance.
According to the Bayer Facts of Science Education V, a Bayer/NSTA survey, the nation's pre-college science teachers say that the reforms outlined in the National Science Education Standards, which emphasize hands-on, inquiry-based learning, can significantly strengthen science education and student performance if communities band together to support and properly implement them.
Bayer and NSTA, today presented key findings of the survey at Bayer's First Making Science Make Sense Volunteer Conference here. Making Science Make Sense is Bayer's companywide initiative which advances science literacy across the United States through hands-on, inquiry-based science learning, employee volunteerism and public education. The volunteer conference brings together Bayer employees from across the country to share ideas and information about ways to improve their science education volunteer/mentoring efforts in local communities across the country. Dr. Mae C. Jemison, former astronaut and current science literacy advocate for Bayer Corporation's Making Science Make Sense initiative, gave a keynote address to attendees about the results.
According to the survey, science teachers say they look to scientists to help strengthen science education. They say that working directly with scientists in the classroom offers substantial benefits to both them and their students.
"It Takes A Village"
Overwhelmingly, precollege science teachers say that successful reform requires, in addition to scientists, the active support of all stakeholder groups. More than three-quarters "strongly agree" that reform efforts will fail or fall far short of their goals without the involvement of teachers, school administrators and school boards, parents and other citizens, business and industry, and the scientific community.
Buy-in from these groups clearly has not yet been achieved, as science teachers involved in implementing reforms in their local school districts report running into obstacles. Four out of five (78 percent) of the 80 percent involved in science education reform efforts, report experiencing barriers, including lack of adequate time for planning and working with other teachers (81 percent); a shortage of science materials, resources and facilities (58 percent); and, lack of financial support for relevant professional development (45 percent).
"The results of this survey paint a 'good news/bad news' scenario about the state of science education," said NSTA President Dr. Steven Rakow. "The good news is that teachers are enthusiastically embracing the vision of the Standards and are leaders in the reform effort; the bad news is that they continue to report major barriers that prevent them from succeeding. To overcome these barriers, we must make long-term, systemic changes to the entire K-12 education system."
Science Literacy Is Critical
Why is science education reform so important? "Because," says Dr. Rakow, "when students learn science experientially through the scientific processes of asking questions, experimenting, analyzing and testing assumptions, they become scientifically literate and develop important lifelong skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork abilities."
And, science literacy, say science teachers, is critical for all adults.
More than two-thirds (68 percent) cite science literacy as "essential" for adults. However, they do not believe the general public views it in quite the same way. In fact, according to the survey, there is a wide disparity between the importance science teachers place on science literacy and the importance they believe the general public places on it. Almost none (two percent) believe that the general public thinks science literacy is essential for adults.
"Science teachers are sending a clear message of the importance of hands-on, inquiry-based learning and that 'it takes a village' to achieve effective science education reform," said Dr. Jemison.
Scientists in the Classroom
When it comes to programs that bring scientists into classrooms to work directly with students, even though only about half of the science teachers (48 percent) report having participated in this type of program, almost all of them (98 percent) say it is critical for students to be exposed to scientists and/or engineers, with nearly one-third (29 percent) calling it "essential" and half (51 percent) "very important."
Moreover, among the half (51 percent) who have not participated in student-scientist programs, three out of four (71 percent) say they would like to. Both those teachers who have and those who haven't participated in such programs give them high marks. They agree that working with scientists helps students better understand science content and peaks their interest in the subject. The experience, say teachers, also provides students with positive role models and solid information about science as a career.
Teachers, too, derive benefits from working with scientists on science curricula and professional development. Though fewer say they have experience with this type of volunteer program (36 percent), those who have say it bolstered their motivation and enthusiasm for teaching the subject (92 percent); helped them better understand science content (87 percent); and, improved their teaching of science content (87 percent). Of the 62 percent who haven't worked with scientists, almost two-thirds (60 percent) say they would like to.
"There is a magnificent opportunity to create meaningful and effective relationships between the nation's scientific and science education communities," said Sande Deitch, executive director of the Bayer Foundation and architect of Making Science Make Sense.
She said that in light of this, Bayer is stepping up its efforts by committing to double its science-volunteers around the country from 1,000 to 2,000 by 2005.
"That is one of the important aims of this volunteer conference," she added.
Another is to encourage more Bayer sites across the country to support science education reform. The latest site to do so is Bayer's Pharmaceutical Division based in West Haven, Connecticut. During the volunteer conference, it announced it has formed a partnership with the New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) to spearhead science education reform in all 34 elementary schools. Bayer will provide NHPS with a $250,000 grant and science volunteers who will work to implement a hands-on, inquiry-based curriculum for some 10,000 students in grades K-6. The curriculum, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC), aligns with both the National Science Education Standards and Connecticut's Science Education Standards.
The Bayer Facts of Science Education V survey was commissioned by Bayer Corporation and the National Science Teachers Association in celebration of National Volunteer Week and National Science & Technology Week. Conducted by Marketing Research Institute, it polled 1,712 NSTA members who report teaching students in grades K-12. The survey had a margin of error of +/-3 percent.
Founded in 1944, the Arlington-based National Science Teachers Association is the world's largest organization that seeks to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Its 53,000-plus members include science teachers of all grade levels, science supervisors, administrators, scientists, business and industry representatives, and others involved in science education.
Bayer Corporation is a research-based company with major businesses in health care and life sciences and chemicals. The company had 1998 sales of $8.1 billion and employs more than 23,000 people. Bayer Corporation is investing $15 billion in capital expenditures and research and development from 1995 through the year 2004. 1999 capital investment and R&D expenditures are projected to total $1.6 billion. Bayer Corporation, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, is a member of the worldwide Bayer Group, a $31 billion chemicals and health care group based in Leverkusen, Germany.
Key Survey Findings
Science Literacy and the State of Science Education:
- 100% of science teachers say it's important for adults to be science literate; 68% say it is essential
- 33% believe the general public views science literacy as not very important for today's adults; 2% think the general public believes science literacy is essential
- 49% are not at all confident that elementary schools are providing students with the kind of quality science education they will need in the coming century
- 29% and 23% report the same lack of confidence about middle and high school science education, respectively
Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), the National Science Education Standards and Science Education Reform:
- 57% of science teachers believe that TIMSS, which shows U.S. middle and high school students performing substantially below those of leading countries in math and science, is an accurate reflection of their performance
- 86% agree that science education reform as exemplified by the National Science Education Standards will substantially strengthen science education and improve student performance
- 80% report having been personally involved in efforts to put the Standards into practice in their school district
- 78% say they have experienced barriers to implementing the Standards including a lack of adequate time for planning (81%), science materials and resources (58%), and financial support (45%)
- 54% somewhat agree that the Standards are making a difference in their school district
- Only 17% strongly agree that the Standards are making a difference in their school district
- 76% strongly agree that without the active support of teachers, school administrators and school boards, parents and other citizens, business and industry, and the scientific community reform efforts will most likely fail or fall far short of their goals
Scientists in the Classroom:
- 51% of science teachers believe it is very important for students to be exposed to scientists and/or engineers; 29% believe it is essential
- 95% agree that contact with scientists and/or engineers is an effective way to help students better appreciate science and engineering as careers
- 48% say they have experience with programs that bring scientists and/or engineers into schools to work directly with students, making class presentations or demonstrations, or assisting students with projects
- For those who participated in such a program, 75% say it helped their students better understand science content; 87% say it peaked their students' interest in science; 92% say it provided their students with positive images of scientists and/or engineers; and, 85% say it provided useful information about science careers
- 71% of science teachers who have not had experience with these types of programs say they would like to
- Of those who would like to participate, 87% believe it would provide students with useful information about science and/or engineering careers; 83% believe it would provide positive images of scientists and/or engineers; 83% believe it would peak student interest in science; and, 65% think it would help students better understand science content
- 36% of science teachers report participating in programs that give teachers the opportunity to work directly with scientists and/or engineers on science curricula or other professional development activities
- Of those participating, 90% believe it helped them better understand science content; 87% say it improved their teaching of science content; and, 92% report it bolstered their motivation and enthusiasm for teaching
- 60% of science teachers who have not participated in these types of programs say they would like to
- Of those who have not participated, 78% believe it would help them better understand science content; 72% think it would improve their teaching of science content; and 78% report it would bolster their motivation and enthusiasm for teaching science