Are We Beginning to See the Light?

Jean Johnson, Jon Rochkind, and Amber Ott
Public Agenda
June 2, 2010

Americans are sold on the idea that math and science skills are increasingly important and that the future workforce will hold more jobs that utilize these skills. But don’t mistake this sentiment as a call for improved science and math education, says a new survey from Public Agenda, because more than half of parents believe their child’s math and science schooling is “fine as it is.” (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development disagrees – it says American youngsters rank 25th internationally in math and 21st in science.)

Parents also expressed a general desire for their children to take more advanced math and science classes in high school (60 and 54 percent, respectively), but few want an emphasis in specific areas like physics and calculus (42 percent each). In fact, most people don’t think it’s essential for students to understand advanced science (28 percent) and math (26 percent) at all – even as 84 percent of Americans agree that students with advanced math and science skills will hold a competitive advantage over their peers in terms of jobs and future earnings.

Most troubling, says Public Agenda’s Director of Education Insights Jean Johnson, is that nearly 70 percent of Americans think science education can wait until middle or high school. “Many parents don’t realize the importance of starting children in science early on. Many think it can easily wait until high school,” Johnson laments.

The full survey asks 34 questions about the current and future state of science and math education, the current and future workforce demands for skills in these areas, and the value the public places on various issues related to math and science education. Responses are available in two groups, all respondents and parents. Check out the survey here.

Emmy L. Partin
Emmy L. Partin is a Director of Ohio Policy & Research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute