How well are American schools teaching science?

Stuart Schneiderman links to this post.


The results are in and America’s elementary, middle and high school students are stumped by science.

The National Center for Education Statistics released the findings of their National Assessment of Educational Progress science exam this week and it doesn’t bode well for the state of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. While the majority of students at the fourth, eighth and twelfth grade levels could successfully complete straightforward hands-on or computer-based tasks and arrive at the correct conclusions, once additional variables or more complex calculations were introduced, their performance declined dramatically.

For example, 75% of high school seniors could successfully use test strips to test water samples for the levels of four pollutants, record the data and interpret whether the results exceeded EPA standards, but only 25% of students were able to design and conduct an investigation using a simulated calorimeter and related patterns in temperature changes in two different metals to determine which metal has the higher specific heat capacity. Results were the same at the lower grade levels, where only 24% and 35% of eighth and fourth graders respectively were able to handle the more difficult experiments. Students also had difficulty in explaining how they arrived at a correct conclusion, with only 27% of twelfth graders able to both select a correct answer and explain why they did so in one section of the test. And in another section, only 11% were able to make a final recommendation that was supported by the data they had worked with in the experiment.

[…]Currently, only about a third of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the US are in the STEM fields – by contrast, over half of Chinese and Japanese college students are specializing in STEM subjects. The economic and career benefits of STEM education are well-documented. STEM occupations are forecasted to grow faster than non-STEM occupations through to 2020. Over the course of the recession, unemployment in STEM fields has been almost half that of non-STEM fields. And STEM professionals earn, on average, approximately 26% more than non-STEM counterparts.

[…]If there’s a bright spot in the NAEP report, it’s the fact that female students are matching or exceeding the performance of their male peers in both hands-on and interactive tasks.

I always encourage Christians to go into STEM fields, especially men who have a Biblical mandate to provide for their families, if they have one. Women can be more flexible in what they study. Men are obligated to go for the bucks.

Regarding that comment in bold that I highlighted, Stuart writes:

Schools are not teaching advanced scientific problem-solving and reasoning, but they have achieved gender parity.

Is this an accidental correlation or is the connection causal?

It is certainly possible that educators have chosen gender parity over scientific excellence. If so, then that would help to explain their failure.

Educators may have chosen to close the gender gap at the expense of boys. They may have devalued certain types of reasoning because girls do not do as well on them. They may have changed the content of experiments to make science a more girl-friendly field?

We know that when boys believe that a field is identified as more feminine, they turn off and go back to their video games.

We know that teachers of the humanities and social sciences now actively discriminates against boys.

Is the same thing true of science?

If you read through the Department of Education report you will observe that the tests mostly involve girl-friendly and environmentally correct topics. They ask how sun-loving plants grow, how to test for pollution, and, how heat is conducted in frying pans.

Do you believe that ten or twelve year old boys will crank it up to study how to cook an omelet?

Sometimes the questions are directed at more boy friendly topics like electronic circuits and magnetic fields but they do not teach about cars, guns, and boats. They do not address questions about mining, agribusiness and construction.

Does it matter? I suspect that it does.

I think some combination of homeschooling and private schools is required if you expect your children to make a difference in the world. Young men especially will benefit from being taken out of the feminized public schools. That’s something I think about when dating and courting – picking the future teacher of my children.

Regardless, all Christians should be advocates for school choice. We shouldn’t be paying for a failed, politicized public school system. Give every parent a voucher and let the public schools compete for funding by pleasing customers – like every other business has to.

4 thoughts on “How well are American schools teaching science?”

  1. “Men are obligated to go for the bucks.”

    No. The Christian view is: Men are obligated to obey God, even if that means less money.


  2. “That’s something I think about when dating and courting – picking the future teacher of my children.”

    Isn’t this inconsistent with the rest of the article? Surely if your premise is that boys in particular need to engage with a stereotypically masculine form of science, it should be you who turns tacking techniques or firing pins into exercises in Newtonian mechanics.


    1. Oh my wife would have a degree in some STEM field and would be able to teach them math and science up to the high school level and she would engineer the curriculum to make sure that the boys were engaged. Homeschooling promotes that.


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