Study: American Public Concerned over State of Science Education


Extra Credit
Do You Know Your Top Physicists?

When Physics World magazine asked scientists at the turn of the millennium to rank the top physicists of all time, Stephen Hawking didn't make the top-10 list. Here's who did.

1. Albert Einstein
2. Isaac Newton
3. James Clerk Maxwell
4. Niels Bohr
5. Werner Heisenberg
6. Galileo Galilei
7. Richard Feynman
8. (Tie) Paul Dirac
8. (Tie) Erwin Schrödinger
10. Ernest Rutherford

Hawking came in at No. 16. If you know off the top of your head what half of these people did, you tied with me. (Hopefully we're grading on a curve.)

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--D. Nagel

Think of the old Bazooka Joe one-liner: "The food is terrible, and the portions are too small." Grasp that, and you'll have an inkling of attitudes toward science education in the United States, where 44 percent of U.S. adults grade the quality of science education in this country at a "C" level or lower, and 79 percent say there isn't enough attention being given to it. This according to a new survey released by the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, "The State of Science in America," the aim of which was to gauge attitudes of "average" Americans toward science and science education.

The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive in late 2007, polled more than 1,300 Americans aged 18 or older and found that U.S. adults aren't particularly well informed about science (with, for example, 96 percent being unable to name a single living scientist) but that they do consider science critical and think that the current level of science education isn't adequate.

"This study is unique in that it's one of the first to define the concerns of average Americans about the state of science education," said Walter Massey, former head of the National Science Foundation, president emeritus of Morehouse College, and trustee of the Museum of Science and Industry, in a statement released to coincide with the survey. "Americans are truly worried about how our deteriorating science education will affect the country's future. And while it used to be only on the minds of leading scientists and educators, it's now clear that the public has their own concerns and even better, ideas on how improvements should be made in their schools and communities."

Among the findings, only 12 percent gave science education a grade of "A," and 87 percent said more funding should be devoted to science education. The vast majority also agreed that science education could be improved through more hands-on classroom activities (97 percent), more teacher professional development (94 percent), and more parental involvement (94 percent).

Seventy percent of respondents also said that the United States is not the current world leader in science, and 65 percent said the United States will not be the world leader in science in the next 20 years. But almost all (96 percent) said that it is important for the United States to be a leader in science education.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at [email protected].

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at [email protected].