From the President - March, 2005

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Declining Science Education Puts Nation at Riskby Steve LevineIs the United States losing its edge in science education? Science graduates from U.S. universities decrease each year. Will many, if not most, of the world’s future scientific discoveries come from outside the United States?These concerns are supported by test results and graduation statistics. Military leaders, major corporations, and immigration authorities are keeping an eye on this dangerous trend. As scientists, we must be advocates for better science education for our youth. It is critical for the success of our state and nation.The State of Science in the State of TexasThe state of Texas must improve science education. Assessments of U.S. science proficiency scores for grade 8 public school students show that Texas trails 24 other states among a pool of 42 states and U.S. territories. Results from the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests further show that those only four states significantly trail Texas: California, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Mississippi.Even in Connecticut, the state with the highest NAEP science achievement test results, news is discouraging with 65% of the grade 8 students scoring below basic or basic scores. Just 35% of the students were assessed proficient (31%) or advanced (4%). Texas results show that an astonishing 77% of grade 8 students earned below basic or basic scores! A mere 23% of the students received proficient to advanced scores.The NAEP 2005 assessment in science is to be administered again to U.S. students in the first quarter of 2005 in grades 4, 8, and 12. Results will be released in the spring of 2006 and, hopefully, the scores will not decline much further.Asian Nations Lead in Science Test ResultsAverage U.S. science scores between 1995 and 2003 for some grade levels improved slightly relative to other surveyed nations. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results showed that grade 4 U.S students performed above average, scoring 536 vs. the international average of 489. Grade 8 U.S. students also outperformed their peers in 32 of the 44 surveyed countries. Singapore, Korea, the Hong Kong sector of China, and Japan showed much higher results than other nations surveyed while Belgium and Sweden dropped significantly. Sweden has since committed to revamping its entire science education program.Fewer Science Graduates at U.S. Universities At universities in the United States, first degrees in science are awarded to only 11% of graduates. Of this pool of science graduates, over half (53%) of degrees awarded were in life sciences, followed by 22% in computer science, 16% in the physical sciences (includes the geosciences), and 10% in mathematics and statistics. Declining science enrollments by U.S. students has lead Congress to increase the number of student visas issued to qualified foreign nationals.Because university funding levels are based largely on enrollment, geoscience and other relatively smaller departments now find themselves with insufficient resources for scholarships, student research and faculty staffing.What Steps Can We Take as Scientists?Get involved! Volunteer in area schools during Earth Science Week or at other times with a local school district’s science research center. Participate as a judge in a local science fair such as the upcoming 46th Annual Science & Engineering Fair of Houston at the George R. Brown Convention Center, March 17-19. Volunteer at the Houston Museum of Science (HMNS) or other community museum, even if it is only a few hours a year. Encourage your own children to consider science as a career.The Houston Geological Society will continue to support youth education programs. Volunteers are needed in the fall to assist with Earth Science Week and the Houston Gem and Mineral show. I encourage our members to get involved for our nation’s sake![For a PDF version of this article, see http://www.hgs.org/2005/March/PresidentsLetter/]

source: 
HGS Bulletin - March, 2005
releasedate: 
Monday, February 28, 2005
subcategory: 
From the President