A recent poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC shows that 59 percent of Americans believe the public school system needs a major rehaul. A new documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” highlights the failings of American schools. And a recent study from top experts in the fields of science and business shows Americans are still seriously behind in science education. USA Today reports on "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," an update of a 2005 study that revealed Americans were sorely lacking in science education. Despite an influx of funding since the 2005 study, conditions have not improved.
The report, co-authored by U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, was recently presented before Congress. It shows that there has been little improvement in the “science literacy” of American schoolchildren since 2005. Despite combined efforts from the private sector and the government, it seems that the outlook for science has gotten worse for America’s present and future.
The latest study addressed the most basic scientific concepts, yet still the facts are grim. 49 percent of all American adults do not know how long it takes the Earth to circle the sun. The world’s leading technology exporter is now China, not the United States. Further, the United States ranks 48th in the world in science and math for students K-12.
These new statistics come at a time when several state science programs have their funding frozen in Congress and two key bills for science funding are set to expire. One bill is called America COMPETES and looks to double science funding education in the next ten years. Charles Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering in Washington DC and one of the author’s of the new study. As he told Nature News, "There is support for research but it is unstable, and these investments only make sense if they are sustained for the long haul."
But not all experts feel that the science situation is as dire as this new report makes it out to be. Jerry Marschke is an economist at the State University of New York at Albany and expert in the science and technology workforce. As he told Nature News, “The way they wrap up their policy recommendations, they're trying to scare people.” Others point out that the report only represents the interest of academics, which have little interest if jobs go overseas to China.
Regardless, most agree that the link between education and economics is clear. The study paints a dire picture for the future of America, citing that if U.S. students only matched the levels of students in Finland, the economy would grow 9 to 16 percent. Hopes are that real action can be done before the final educational bills are passed in 2011.
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