In 2009, a Carnegie Foundation commission of distinguished researchers and public and private leaders concluded that "the nation’s capacity to innovate for economic growth and the ability of American workers to thrive in the modern workforce depend on a broad foundation of math and science learning, as do our hopes for preserving a vibrant democracy and the promise of social mobility that lie at the heart of the American dream"1. However, the U.S. system of science and mathematics education is performing far below par and, if left unattended, will leave millions of young Americans unprepared to succeed in a global economy.
- 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 in on the decline, while China has become the single largest exporting country for high-tech products. Correspondingly, the United States' high-tech trade deficit continues to grow3.
- The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranks the United States as 23rd in Science, 30th in Math, and 20th in Reading Literacy out of 65 OECD education systems4.
- In 2011, the United States ranked 23rd in high school graduation rate among OECD countries5.
- Over a third of eighth-graders scored below basic on the 2011 NAEP Science assessment6.
- In 2012, 54% of high school graduates did not meet the ACT's college readiness benchmark levels in math, and 69% of graduates failed to meet the readiness benchmark levels in science7.
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 clusters8. 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 activity9.
2. Science and Engineering Indicators: 2012. National Science Foundation. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c6/c6h.htm#s4
3. Science and Engineering Indicators: 2012. National Science Foundation. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c6/c6h.htm#s3
4. Selected Findings from PISA 2012. http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2012/pisa2012highlights_1.asp
5. 2013 OECD Data. http://www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm
6. 2011 NAEP Science Assessment Report. http://nationsreportcard.gov/science_2011/science_2011_report/
7. 2012 ACT College Readiness Benchmarks Report. http://media.act.org/documents/CCCR12-NationalReadinessRpt.pdf/
8. 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.)
9. National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 2003.