The Need for New Science Standards
- Shrinking share of patents: Foreign competitors filed over half of U.S. technology patent applications in 20102.
- Diminishing share of high-tech exports: Our share of high-tech exports is on the decline, while the European Union’s has held steady and China’s has surpassed us3. Correspondingly, the United States has a growing high-tech trade deficit4.
- The U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics on the 2009 PISA assessment. Less than ten percent of U.S. students scored at one of the top two of six performance levels5.
- The United States is 12th in high school graduation rate among the 36 OECD countries for which data is available6.
- Over a third of eighth-graders scored below basic on the 2009 NAEP Science assessment7.
- 78% of high school graduates did not meet the readiness benchmark levels for one or more entry level college courses in mathematics, science, reading and English8.
When we think science education, we tend to think preparation for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which are wellsprings of innovation in our economy. Why then is ensuring scientific and technological literacy for all students of equal concern? Over the past decades, demands have shifted in favor of skilled jobs requiring more education than the unskilled jobs they replaced. Moreover, many of the fastest growing occupations are those where science and mathematics play a central role.
The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, grouped all occupations into 16 career clusters9. Fourteen of the 16 career clusters call for four years of science, with the remaining two clusters calling for three years. All 16 called for four years of mathematics. The inescapable message: to keep their options open and maximize their opportunities, all students should follow a rigorous program in both science and mathematics .
Beyond the concern of employability looms the larger question of what it takes to thrive in today’s society. Citizens now face problems from pandemics to energy shortages whose solutions require all the scientific and technological genius we can muster. Americans are being forced to increasingly make decisions—including on health care and retirement planning—where literacy in science and mathematics is a real advantage. Contrast these demands with the results of the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Fewer than one in three college graduates can perform tasks such as interpreting a data table about blood pressure and physical activity10.
3. Science and Engineering Indicators: 2010. National Science Foundation. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/c0/c0s11.htm.
4. Our Nation’s Surprising Technology Trade Deficit. Center for American Progress. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2008/03/high_tech_trade.html.
9. National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, Sample Plans of Study, http://www.careertech.org/career-clusters/, 2006. (Career clusters are as follows: Agriculture; Architecture & Construction; Arts, A/V Technology & Communication; Business; Education; Finance; Government; Health Science; Hospitality & Tourism; Human Services; Information Technology; Law, Public Safety; Manufacturing; Marketing, Sales, Service; Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics; Transportation.)
10. National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 2003.