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Voters See Science Ed. As Priority, Give Schools Middling Grade

The vast majority of American voters believe improving the quality of science instruction is "extremely" or "very" important to the nation's ability to compete globally, but a majority grade the quality of such instruction as a "C" or below in this country, according to new survey data.

In fact, even when asked about their local schools (a question that generally tends to produce a more optimistic view of educational quality), only 3 percent of registered voters surveyed gave them an "A" for the quality of science teaching.

The survey data, released today at the annual conference of the National Science Teachers Association, also sought to probe attitudes toward the development of common standards in science. Nearly two-thirds, or 62 percent, say it's better for all states to have the same science standards at each grade level. The survey was commissioned by Achieve, a Washington-based organization formed by governors and corporate leaders that just so happens to be working with a group of states on developing a set of uniform, "next-generation" science standards.

Voters also seemed to think the quality of science education in the United States falls short of that in some other nations. When asked how science education ranks in comparison with China, the European Union, Japan, India, and Russia, 56 percent said they believed the U.S. was behind, compared with 23 percent who said they were the same, and 18 percent who said the U.S. is actually ahead.

As we've reported before, international test data suggest that U.S. student achievement in science is not exactly at the top of the pack. For instance, 2010 results in science from the Program for International Student Assessment found the achievement of U.S. 15-years-olds about average in comparison with leading industrialized nations. The U.S. ranked in the same statistical category in science as 12 other nations, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Portugal. Meanwhile, 12 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, including Finland, South Korea, and Japan, had measurably higher scores.

Anyway, here are some more detailed highlights from the new, national survey of 800 registered voters, conducted in February by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Keep in mind that I'm paraphrasing the questions asked.

How would you grade the quality of science education in "our nation's public schools"?

• A: 3 percent
• B: 23 percent
• C: 49 percent
• D: 13 percent
• F: 5 percent

How would you grade the quality of science education in "the public schools where you live"?

• A: 11 percent
• B: 29 percent
• C: 34 percent
• D: 13 percent
• F: 3 percent

How important is improving the quality of science education in public schools to the nation's ability to compete globally?

• Extremely important: 48 percent
• Very important: 36 percent
• Somewhat important: 13 percent
• Not too/Not at all important: 2 percent

In a press release, Stephen Pruitt, a vice president at Achieve, sought to highlight the survey's finding about the high value voters seem to place on science education.

"Science teachers have long understood the value to students of a high-quality science education and it's encouraging to see that voters also understand the value of a robust science education—for students as well as for our nation's ability to compete," he said. "This is exactly why 26 states have come together to develop Next Generation Science Standards."

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