Monday, May 6, 2013

No Evidence American Science Education is “Failing” & No Evidence of a Shortage of Qualified STEM Professionals

 No Evidence American Science Education is “Failing” & No Evidence of a Shortage of Qualified STEM Professionals

Posted on Science website.

“Transformation is possible …”  (April 19) contains ideas for improvement, but the suggestions should not be framed as a response to the accusation that the US has been failing in science education:  “…. universities are squandering talent at a time when U.S. higher education is being criticized for not turning out enough science-savvy graduates to keep the country competitive”  (p. 292).

There is good evidence that this accusation is false: There is no evidence that American science education is failing and no evidence that we face a shortage of qualified STEM professionals.

American students are doing well not only in science and math but in other subjects as well.  Our unspectacular scores on international tests are because we have so many students living in poverty, 23%, the second-highest among all industrialized countries. When researchers control for poverty, American international test scores are at the top of the world. In fact, middle class American students in well-funded schools outscore students in nearly all other countries on international tests. Poverty means poor nutrition, poor health care, and little access to books: All of these have powerful effects on school performance.

The US produces more top science students than other countries: On the 2006 PISA math and science tests, 60,000 American students scored in the top category, compared to 34,000 Japanese students. Also, American students are taking more math and science than the economy needs: In 2007, 30% of college-bound high-school seniors had taken calculus, but only 5% of new openings require a math/science background.

According to Rutgers Professor Hal Salzman, there is no shortage of science and technology graduates. In fact, Salzman has concluded that there are two to three qualified graduates for each science/tech opening. Studies have also shown the US is producing more Ph.D.s in science than the market can absorb.  

There is good evidence that contrary to popular opinion, we are turning out more than enough “science-savvy graduates.”

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Impact of poverty: Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Berliner, D. 2011. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. Tienken, C. 2010. Common core state standards: I wonder? Kappa Delta Phi Record 47 (1): 14-17. Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012.

Levels of poverty: Levels of child poverty: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2012), ‘Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.
“Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books”: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential:  Out-of-School Factors and School Success.  Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.;   Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership  55(4): 18-22.

No STEM crisis: Salzman, H. & Lowell, B. L. 2007. Into the Eye of the Storm: Assessing the Evidence on Science and Engineering Education, Quality, and Workforce Demand. Available at SSRN:; Salzman, H. and Lowell, L. 2008. Making the grade. Nature 453 (1): 28-30.; Teitelbaum, M. 2007. Testimony before the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC, November 6, 2007 ;Toppo, G. and Vergano, D. 2009.  Scientist shortage? Maybe not. USA Today, August 9, 2009; The Ph.D Bust: America's Awful Market for Young Scientists—in 7 Charts.

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