Science Ed | Research

University Department Chairs See Need for Improved K-12 STEM Curriculum

Improving the STEM curriculum is the single most important thing K-12 schools can do to prepare students for college. That's according to a new survey that polled department chairs at 200 research universities across the United States.

In fact, more than three times the number of participants cited the need to improve K-12 curriculum over the need to improve STEM teacher preparation and training as the critical factor in preparing students for college--48 percent of respondents versus 13 percent.

The survey, "Bayer Facts of Science Education XV," was conducted by International Communications Research on behalf of Bayer Corp. It involved 413 department heads at 200 research universities described by researchers as "top" institutions and those institutions that have historically graduated the most underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines. STEM department chairs who participated in the survey represented agricultural sciences (11 percent), biological sciences (29 percent), computer sciences (5 percent), engineering (28 percent), mathematical sciences (8 percent), and physical sciences (20 percent). Most (80 percent) hailed from public institutions, 77 percent with overall undergraduate student bodies greater than 10,000, and 74 percent with 100 or more students in their undergraduate STEM departments. The overall margin of error for the survey was reported at ±4.5 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

The survey was designed primarily to gauge the views of STEM department heads on issues of racial and sexual diversity in undergraduate STEM disciplines, but it also veered into views on how students could be better prepared for college and what universities are doing to reach out to students before they enter higher education.

Among the findings, researchers noted that most university department chairs (69 percent) said students should start building a foundation in STEM education earlier--in kindergarten and elementary school. Thirty percent of female department heads (versus 14 percent male) said students should begin as early as preschool.

As previously noted, the factor cited most often as important for preparing students to study STEM subjects in higher education was improvements to K-12 curriculum (48 percent). Other factors cited as important by participants included:

  • Making improvements to STEM counseling (14 percent);
  • Making improvements to STEM teacher prep and training (13 percent); and
  • Using fewer standardized tests and teaching more critical thinking and problem solving (11 percent).

Additional details of the survey and methodology can be found on Bayer's STEM education portal.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .