Survey Shows California Parents Want Science Ed a High Priority
by Tom Chorneau, School Innovations & Advocacy Cabinet Report
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Close to nine out of ten California adults believe science instruction is nearly as important a component of K-12 education as reading, writing and arithmetic, according to a new poll released Tuesday.
Three quarters of those surveyed said that science should be a higher priority than it is today in most public schools to keep California and the U.S. globally competitive.
And two thirds also said that all high school students should be required to study biology, chemistry and physics.
The poll was sponsored by a consortium led by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning and Strengthening Science Education in California – a collaborative of researchers and educators.
The survey comes as the Obama administration has put greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education – also known as STEM. It also comes as school districts across the state continue to struggle with the largest fiscal crisis in generations that is forcing administrators and oversight boards to decide how to prioritize limited public funds.
Advocates for science instruction said they are heartened by the poll results.
“I am glad to see there is so much support out there for science education,” said Christine Bertrand, executive director of the California Science Teachers Association. “It’s significant that it’s not just us expressing support and it is not just the teachers saying it – it is parents who are saying it now and I just hope policy-makers will be listening.”
The survey is based on telephone interviews with 1,004 California adults taken over a two-week period ending April 22. Researchers also conducted a series of six focus groups to get a better understanding of participant views.
Rena Dorph, director of the Center for Research Evaluation and Assessment at the University of California, Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science – a partner in the poll’s development – noted that one interesting element of the poll found a lot of uncertainty among parents about the quality of existing science instruction.
Indeed, more than half of those surveyed who have children in school said they didn’t know if their child’s science teacher had been adequately prepared.
When asked to rate their child’s science teacher, about 6 percent of all parents with children in K-12 public schools gave their child’s teacher a top score of excellent.
About a third of all parents with kids in school gave their child’s science teacher a fair or good rating with another 5 percent saying their child’s science teacher was poor or very poor.
By far the greatest response – 33 percent among parents of elementary children and 32 percent among parents of high school students – said they did not know enough about their child’s teacher to have an opinion.
“Many parents don’t actually know much about what is happening in the schools,” said Dorph. “So when they make statements about the quality of certain aspects of their children’s school experience, these judgments are drawn from relatively limited information.”
That said, she pointed out, the people still care.
“The public really cares about science education,” she said. “In an era of accountability that is so focused on math and language arts, I think the public still understands the role that science learning plays in the growth development of their children.”
Eds. note: The full report can be found at http://www.cftl.org/documents/2010/2010SciCFTL4web.pdf.
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