Despite Calls To Improve Elementary Science Education, Science Still Ranks As Second-Tier Subject
In New Survey, U.S. College/University Deans and Newest Generation of K-5 Teachers Weigh in on Today's Science Education Training Programs and Classroom Practices
May 11, 2004
Progress Report On Decade-Long Science Education Reform Movement
NEW YORK -- Deans at the nation's colleges and universities who are responsible for training the newest generation of elementary schoolteachers say science should be the fourth "R," and placed on equal footing with reading, writing and math in elementary school.
Yet, 10 years after the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards called for similar change as part of its recommendations for U.S. science education reform, a new survey concludes elementary school science still remains a second-tier subject, both in teacher training and in today's classrooms.
Regardless of the deans' recognition of the importance of kindergarten through fifth grade (K-5) science education, many lack confidence that today's young students are getting a good science education and are less confident about their own graduating teachers' qualifications to teach K-5 science than reading, writing and social studies. And, substantially fewer new teachers feel "very qualified" to teach science compared to the other core subjects.
Those are among the central findings of a survey commissioned by Bayer Corporation as part of its Making Science Making Science (MSMS) program. The Bayer Facts of Science Education X: Are the Nation's Colleges and Universities Adequately Preparing Elementary Schoolteachers of Tomorrow to Teach Science? polls both college/university deans of education and the newest generation of America's K-5 schoolteachers (those with three to five years of experience) to provide a progress report on K-5 science education. It reveals a glass half-empty/half-full picture, and a consistent message that says science in our schools is considered less important than reading, writing and math - a message that is seen in college/university elementary education programs and subsequently carried over to teaching in classrooms across the country.
"People often ask me, 'If we can send a man to the moon, why can't our students achieve in science?'" said Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the nation's first African-American female astronaut and national MSMS spokesperson. "My response just as often is 'Because we haven't made it a priority.' And that is certainly something we're seeing here. But this survey provokes another question, 'How can we expect our students to achieve in science when the message to their teachers is that science is less important for them, too?'"
College/University Pre-Service Science Education
In a series of questions to both deans and new teachers about their pre-service (i.e., college/university) training programs, the pattern of science as second-tier subject emerges.
For example, many more new teachers give an "A" grade to their English and math teaching preparation (39 percent and 28 percent, respectively) than they do to their science teaching preparation (18 percent). And, the four in 10 (42 percent) who give it a C, D or F is substantially larger than those teachers similarly dissatisfied with pre-service training in English and math (28 percent and 23 percent, respectively).
While deans tend to be more positive, they are still least likely to rate their science teaching prep "excellent" as compared to English, math and social studies. Specifically, 40 percent give their science training programs an A, compared to 76 percent for English, 56 percent for math and 44 percent for social studies.
America's new teachers say science received less emphasis than English and math in their general teaching methods courses. When asked to rate subjects in order of time spent, 86 percent of teachers rated English first, 66 percent math second, 53 percent science third and 56 percent social studies fourth.
Moreover, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of deans say, overall, English receives the most emphasis, while science and social studies vie for least emphasis (26 percent and 45 percent, respectively).
Science is cited by the most teachers (63 percent) as the subject they wish had been given more emphasis during their pre-service training as compared to English (48 percent), math (49 percent) and social studies (60 percent).
Despite the present limited requirements for elementary education majors in science and in science teaching methods, both deans and new teachers say more is needed. A large majority of both deans (84 percent) and teachers (72 percent) agree that "elementary teacher education programs should require their undergraduates to take more coursework both in science itself and in science teaching methods."
In fact, one in three new teachers (35 percent) say they rely more on what they learned in their high school science courses than on what they learned in college to teach science today.
Today's Elementary School Science Classroom
How does yesterday's science preparation of teachers translate into today's classroom? While the effects of reform of science education are apparent, more still needs to be done. Consider:
- While almost all teachers report teaching reading, writing (95 percent) and math (93 percent) every day, only one-third say they teach science (35 percent) and social studies (33 percent) every day, and one-third (29 percent) say they teach science twice a week or less.
- One-third (38 percent) of the teachers lack full confidence in their qualifications to teach science (85 percent of teachers feel "very qualified" to teach English, 87 percent math and 66 percent social studies, but only 61 percent feel very qualified to teach science).
- When asked to rate the quality of their school's science education overall, only 14 percent assigned an A and nearly one-third (30 percent) assigned a C or D. Most (56 percent) gave it a B or good rating.
"At a time when the U.S. is failing to produce the number of science and engineering graduates it needs not only for economic competitiveness, but also for homeland securityŠ at a time when the science and technology industry is concerned about the lack of qualified workers to fill science and technology jobsŠ and at a time when the U.S. is faced with a dwindling number of foreign workers to fill those jobsŠ we still haven't made the full commitment to make science education a national priority," said John Payne, President and General Manager of Bayer HealthCare LLC - Animal Health Division, North America and Chairman of Bayer's MSMS program.
Payne explained that the reason K-5 science education is so important is because "if we don't grab students and get them interested in science early on, they drop out of the science pipeline in middle and high school and we lose them."
According to experts, it is also in elementary school that students, if taught science in a hands-on, inquiry-based manner, begin to develop important lifelong science literacy skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking and team working.
And the good news is that in this area - inquiry-based science teaching methods - clear progress is being made, according to the survey.
For example, the vast majority (74 percent) of deans say the National Science Education Standards have had a significant impact on their institution's K-5 teacher education programs and nearly all (94 percent) report that in the last four years, they've "conducted a comprehensive review of their K-5 science teaching preparation program and implemented changes."
Both deans (95 percent) and teachers (93 percent) agree that having students conduct hands-on experiments, form opinions and discuss and defend their conclusions with others is the most effective way for them to learn science. And nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) deans believe the emphasis on inquiry-based science teaching should increase in U.S. elementary schools.
Further, about eight in 10 (83 percent) of deans report this is the method their institution primarily uses to train its K-5 teacher candidates to teach science, a finding confirmed by the teachers surveyed. And eight out of 10 (78 percent) new teachers say they use inquiry-based science teaching most often in their classrooms. (Ten years ago, in the first Bayer Facts survey, only six in 10 (63 percent) elementary teachers reported using inquiry-based methods.)
"While there is definitely movement in the right direction, the survey tells us that K-5 science education needs a stronger emphasis at the pre-service college/university training level if we are to successfully make science the fourth R," said Rebecca Lucore, Executive Director, Bayer USA Foundation and Manager, Community Affairs, Bayer Corporation. "But we also know that colleges and universities need not go it alone because model programs exist that can be emulated that give science first-tier emphasis."
Lucore pointed to a handful of colleges and universities that have developed innovative pre-service training programs that are providing hands-on training in hands-on science so the teachers of tomorrow are skilled in this methodology as soon as they graduate and enter the classroom. They include:
- ASSET Inc. Inquiry Science Endorsement in Southwestern Pennsylvania, a partnership with Duquesne University, California University of Pennsylvania and Robert Morris University;
- Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education (SMATE) Program at Western Washington University in Northwest Washington state; and,
- West Virginia-Handle on Science Project and West Liberty State College: Materials and Methods Courses in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.
Making Science Make Sense is a companywide initiative that advances science literacy through hands-on, inquiry-based science learning, employee volunteerism and public education. Currently, 15 Bayer sites around the country operate local MSMS programs, representing a national volunteer corps of more than 1,200 employees.
Bayer Corporation, headquartered in Pittsburgh, is the U.S. holding company of the worldwide Bayer Group, an international health care and chemicals group based in Leverkusen, Germany. Bayer employs 23,300 in North America with net North American sales of $11 billion in 2003. Bayer's four operating business areas - HealthCare, CropScience, Polymers and Chemicals - produce a broad range of products that help diagnose and treat diseases, purify water, preserve local landmarks, protect crops, advance automobile safety and durability and improve people's lives.
The Bayer Group has 115,400 employees. Its stock is a component of the DAX and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (ticker symbol: BAY). For 2003, the Group recorded sales of 28.6 billion euros and a group net loss of 1.4 billion euros. Capital expenditures totaled 1.7 billion euros, and 2.4 billion euros was invested in research and development.
Conducted by Market Research Institute Inc., results of the Bayer Facts X are based on telephone interviews conducted between March 10, 2004, and April 2, 2004, with 1,000 K-5 new teachers and 250 college/university education school deans. Combined, the surveys have a confidence level of 95 percent, with a margin of error of +/- three percent. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.
For more information or to view the complete report, please visit www.BayerUS.com/MSMS.
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Contact: Rebecca Lucore
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