Science classes with mostly high-achieving students are much more likely to use advanced technologies such as microscopes and graphic calculators than those with mostly low-achieving students, according to the 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education.
The survey is the fifth major report in a series of studies that began in 1977 and are funded by the National Science Foundation. The research documents long-standing problems, such as inequities in instructional technology and teacher preparedness, as well as positive indicators, such as findings that mathematics is taught every day in elementary schools and that more than three-quarters of elementary mathematics teachers describe themselves as “very well prepared” to teach mathematics.
On the downside, only about one-fifth of elementary school classes teach science every day, and less than 40 percent of elementary science teachers feel that they are very well prepared to teach the subject.
The results come from a nationally representative survey of more than 1,500 schools and 7,752 science and mathematics teachers from across the country.
The 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education is “the only detailed, nationally representative snapshot of the K-12 science and mathematics education system, which comes at a critical time when the country is adopting new standards in these disciplines,” said Eric R. Banilower, the study’s principal investigator.
More than 40 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and literacy. In addition, 10 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to separate science standards developed by the National Science Teachers Association. Improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education has also been a major objective of the Obama administration and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
The report’s data on the uneven distribution of instructional technology document part of a larger problem with ensuring that all students have access to equal educational opportunities. The report found that 39 percent of classes composed of mostly high-achieving students had graphing calculators, compared to 23 percent of classed that had average achievers or a mixture of students at various levels of achievement. Just 18 percent of the classes with mostly low achievers had graphic calculators.
A similar disparity was found in access to microscopes, with 82 percent of the classes with mostly high achievers having access, compared to 63 percent of classes with mostly average or mixed achievers, and 59 percent of classes with mostly low achievers.
Among the positive findings were that 81 percent of elementary school teachers considered themselves “very well prepared” to teach reading and language arts, and 77 percent said they were “very well prepared” to teach math. However, these levels fell to 47 percent for social studies and 39 percent for science.
Just 29 percent of elementary school teachers said they were “very well prepared” to teach life sciences. The rates of high preparedness were 26 percent for earth science, 17 percent for physical science and 4 percent for engineering.