America’s world-changing scientific legacy is under threat. Sure, it doesn’t help that plenty of lawmakers are bandying about denying basic science, but as a new study has revealed, it’s also being taught fairly badly to young children too – and setting them up for a life of science illiteracy.
Writing in the journal Early Education and Development, a team led by Michigan State University found that although 99 percent of preschool (ages 3-5) teachers taught literacy three or four times a week, just 75 percent of them did the same with mathematics, and a mere 42 percent did the same with science.
This may partly explain why just 38 percent of Fourth Graders (aged 9-10) are proficient in basic science This falls to 34 percent by Eighth Grade (aged 13-14) and 22 percent by Twelfth Grade (aged 17-18). Considering that science is a key foundation of societal, technological, medical, and economic prowess, this is a major problem.
“US elementary children perform below several of their international peers in science achievement tests,” the authors explained in their paper.
“This is not surprising considering that the foundation for scientific understanding is shaky: Elementary teachers spend just 6 percent to 13 percent of their instructional time teaching science,” a figure that falls to between 4 and 8 percent of the time when it comes to preschool teachers.
The National Science Foundation-funded study asked preschool teachers to describe their own instructional methods and rate their own proficiency and confidence in literacy, math, and science.
The distressing findings revealed somewhat of a cyclical problem in American education: part of the reason so little time is spent teaching science is that many preschool teachers have had a poor scientific education themselves.
A lack of quality training and preparation and/or lack of interest in science means that preschool children are far less likely to be taught science to the same standard as literacy, or to even be taught it at all. The researchers also point out that in some cases, schools are pressured to maintain literacy standards at all costs – even at the expense of science.
The study found, to no-one’s surprise, that only teachers highly educated in science themselves make engaging, skilled, and effective science teachers. It’s not hard to see why America needs far more of them.
Federal science funding is at an all-time low just as powerful figures decry mainstream science and educational institutions as either a danger or a conspiracy. Science education isn’t likely to get much attention in such a hostile political climate, although we'd be happy to be proved wrong on this.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to promote and celebrate teachers and students that are doing all they can to make American science great again.