Hey America, it’s report card time!
A nationwide science assessment has returned results for 4th, 8th, and 12th grades (non-Americans: that’s about 9 years old, 13 years old, and 17 years old, respectively) in 2005, and I’m no statistician but overall it looks like we’re DOOMED.
I kid, of course. The results aren’t fantastic, and they do suggest that we need to get our asses in gear to keep kids interested in science; however, I find it a little misleading for the New York Times to run a piece about the report under the headline Test Shows Drop in Science Achievement for 12th Graders. The report does indicate that (and even stresses it), but let’s look at the facts: this test was given in 2000 and 1996. The 2005 scores for 12th graders have dropped since 1996, but they’ve actually risen a bit since 2000. So, it’s not as if the kids are getting dumber. They’re just as dumb as they were five years ago, which is pretty dumb. Take that as you will.
The full report (available from the first link in PDF form) gives a breakdown of scores by state. They’re all fairly even, but that’s most likely because Kansas noticeably didn’t participate this year.
The scariest thing for me came from the above NY Times article, which quoted Michael J. Padilla, president of the National Science Teachers Association, as saying:
…the problem was not that universities were failing to train sufficient numbers of science majors or that too few were opting for classroom careers, but that about a third of those who accepted teaching jobs abandoned the profession within five years.
A third! Someone in the Skepchick forum recently pointed out John Stossel’s (from 20/20, an American news show) argument that teachers are not underpaid, as is the general belief. Stossel criticized teachers who picket for more money and benefits when he feels they already make a just amount of money. One has to wonder, then, why a third of our science teachers with applicable majors are dropping out after just five years.
While I don’t have personal experience teaching in a school, I do have a few friends who are currently fighting the good fight — and a fight, it is. They’re dealing with the religious and pseudoscientific beliefs of parents, the children that such parents spawn, and the administrators who may not always be focused on what’s best for the kids. The math teachers don’t need to worry about long PTA meetings debating algebraic “theory,” and to date the Holocaust revisionists haven’t organized to the point of bothering the history teachers. Science and those who teach it, though, are continually under attack by the ignorant. Maybe for some would-be teachers, it’s just too damn depressing.
On the bright side, that’s a pretty funny picture of a monster saying “Wah!”
Thanks to everyone who has emailed and/or commented here in the past week or so — I’m working through a backlog, but I swear I read them all. Some of the recent comments have been so great I’m thinking of running a “comment o’ the week” contest just so I can give kudos.
Tomorrow I’ll try to get to some of the greatÃ‚ news items you guys have been sending in.