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Failing Grades in Science Standards For US Schools

Failing Grades in Science Standards For US Schools


The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has issued “The State of Science Standards 2012“ report (a PDF is here) and the results are not encouraging. Only one state, California, was given an “A” for its science standards; an A- was given to four states (Indiana, South Carolina, Virginia). Ten states (including Alaska, Oregon and Wisconsin) received an F.

My own state of New Jersey, who has many highly-ranked public schools, scored dismally, receiving a “D” for science standards that are summed up as “vapid” due to having “bare-bones content” that is “largely overshadowed by the supplemental materials, which introduce non-sequiturs, misleading statements, and full-on errors into the standards.” In contrast, the report commends the authors of California’s science standards as knowing what was “important to cover” with all due rigor and explaining what should be taught “in cogent prose.”

Standards for science are deficient in most states for four reasons:

(1) They undermine evolution: For instance, Louisiana’s 2008 Science Education Act pushes a “pro-creationist agenda” that purports to protect “academic freedom” while actually “allowing for the introduction of creationist teaching supplements.”

(2) They tend to be vague: One of New Jersey’s standards for fourth graders — “use outcomes of investigations to build and refine questions, models, and explanation” — contains “virtually no specific content” to the point that it is “impossible to determine what students should actually know or be able to d0.”

(3) They are weak in integrating scientific inquiry: Many states’ standards inadequately instruct students about the history and evolution of science and about key concepts such as theory and hypothesis.

(4) They fail to emphasize the link between math and science: “Few states make the link between math and science clear—and many seemto go to great lengths to avoid mathematical formulae and equations altogether”; as a result, many standards contain a “clumsy mishmash of poor writing that could much more easily and clearly be expressed in numbers.”

As the report observes in its introduction, Americans have linked science education to our national security and economic competitiveness since Sputnik went into orbit in 1957. A 2011 survey found that 74 percent of Americans consider the STEM areas — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — to be “very important.” But the belief that science education is important has not at all been matched by “strong scientific achievement.” Rather, the US continues to rank low on international assessments of scientific achievement including the PISA (fifteen-year-old Americans ranked twenty-third out of sixty-five countries; Shanghai’s students took the #1 spot).

Of course, just having highly-rated standards for teaching science does not necessarily translate into solid science instruction in the classroom. But the Fordham Institute is right to say that “the United States is doing little more than talking about the importance of getting science education right.” Given the acknowledged importance of the STEM areas,  the Fordham Institute’s report makes it too clear that the US has a really long way to go if it wants to be competitive in a world economy in which technology, innovation and, yes, science are fundamental.


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4:40PM PDT on May 30, 2012

science classes as a whole were vague, but "specific" sciences were not... aka chemistry, anatomy. i loved most of the sciences.. it was math i detested

10:19AM PDT on Apr 9, 2012

that's it. I'm moving to Europe. They maybe having tough times there but at least they are a lot less delusional.

1:48PM PDT on Mar 21, 2012

Some kids are just not interested in Science! And it's so easy to blame teachers - teachers who try to instruct their students when funds have been cut dramatically very sad!

2:07AM PST on Mar 9, 2012

I feel that the powers that be are preparing the children to be super low wage slave labor for sweatshops to service China instead of the innovators that made America strong.

5:49PM PST on Feb 11, 2012


6:44PM PST on Feb 7, 2012

Want things to change? Check out the National Popular Vote at .

6:33PM PST on Feb 7, 2012

Our kids grades keep falling and our legislators keep taking money out of our public school system. Of course, what do they care? Their children go to private schools.

2:54PM PST on Feb 6, 2012

I am a forty-six year old woman who has drummed up all of her courage to go back to school and study information technology. I have math anxiety, a fear of almost all things technological, and an abysmal science background yet I absolutely love the internet, social networks, and pc's. I realize all of the hurdles that I'm going to have to jump and the mountains that I'm going to have to climb; but, at my age, I just don't care anymore. I want a career that's satisfying on all levels. Now if only we would better serve our students in math and science curriculum less would be finding themselves in my position as adults.

2:02PM PST on Feb 6, 2012

Contrary to popular belief on Care2, it's not just conservatives driving the trouble. I'm pretty sure someone will object here, but liberals are just as guilty.

Consider the lack of scientific inquiry taught regarding the climate. We can look at interpretations of data and analyses by self-proclaimed experts all day, but how far do you think things would have gotten if kids learned about checking methodology and the difference between raw data and interpretations? The Hockey Team tried to change the null hypothesis be to accept catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, demanding that skeptics provide evidence of its absence rather than demand evidence of its occurrence. What do you think would have happened then if people understood that the null hypothesis was determined solely by Occam's Razer and not by evidence or scientists? Just look at the responses people give here to "climate sceptics".

What do you think would happen to Progressivism if kids learned basic engineering and recognised that the movement is built around turning the government into a point-failure source for the entire society? What would happen politically if people studied methodology in economics and realised that nobody in the world really understands it well enough to run an economy, including the people we trust to intervene so heavily in them?

The biggest problem in scientific inquiry today is that too many people still trust "proof by authority".

10:31AM PST on Feb 6, 2012

Stephen B.

Well said! "I think I figured out why people don't like the sciences".

And today, people don't like music they can't sing along to either.

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