U.S. Science Education Was Best in the 1980s and Worst in the 1950s and 1960s (and Other Clear Conclusions From the Data)

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ILLUSTRATION FROM PHOTOS COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS
  • Illustration from photos courtesy of Creative Commons

[Satire alert, in case anyone reading this thinks I'm being serious.]

The results are in, and the conclusions are clear. The Pew Research Center administered a test on science knowledge (you can take the test here), and it demonstrated a distinct difference in science knowledge based on people's age, gender and race. I've used those results to draw the following conclusions.

1. Science education in U.S. K-12 schools reached its peak during the years between 1980 and 2000. People between the ages of 30 and 49 earned the highest scores on the test, and they would have received their middle and high school science educations during the years roughly between 1980 and 2000. During those years, the Reagan administration's 1983 Nation at Risk report concluded that our schools were suffering from a "rising tide of mediocrity" and declared, "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war." Peak science education continued through the post-Nation at Risk years when the improvement in our schools was said to be so minimal that we needed to impose a new educational model, No Child Left Behind, based on strict educational standards and yearly high stakes tests.

2. Science education in the U.S. has deteriorated since the advent of No Child Left Behind. People between the ages of 18 and 24, who received their middle and high school science educations since NCLB was passed in 2001, scored lower than people who went to school during the previous two decades. Whether that indicates a general deterioration of our schools or indicates that the increased emphasis on the tested subjects of reading, writing and math meant less emphasis on science instruction is unclear and will need to be examined further.

3. The worst time for post-World War II science education in K-12 schools was in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by the 1970s. The poorest performers on the test were people over 65, followed by people between the ages of 50 and 64.

4. More women attended failing schools and had poorly quality science teachers than men. Men scored higher on the test than women, indicating that women's science education was inferior to that received by men.

5. Science teachers in schools with predominantly African American and Hispanic students are inferior to teachers in schools with predominantly white students. Test takers who are African American and Hispanic scored lower than White test takers.

Someone better trained in statistics and polling than I may draw more sophisticated conclusions from this rich data source, but based on the quality of my analysis, the state's Department of Education should consider hiring me to help analyze the results of the AzMERIT tests.

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