How Are States Doing In Science?
    By News Staff | May 15th 2014 05:52 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    While American adults lead the world in science literacy, and America leads the world in science output and Nobel prizes, American students are only middle of the pack when it comes to international standardized tests.

    Is science creativity, teaching how to think, disconnected from scores on standardized tests? It would seem so, but every time standardized tests are given, entrenched constituencies in education say education is broken but they can fix it.

    The public and politicians don't agree so in the last decade we have gotten No Child Left Behind, which had success - scores for minorities all went up and girls achieved math parity with boys for the first time ever - but was protested by teachers and unions and gutted by President Obama, who has instead endorsed Common Core, and that is getting the same negative reaction.

    The National Science Foundation hopes its 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators report can shed some light on things - but as is often the case when it comes to politics, it is more likely that advocates will torture the data until it says what they want it to say.

    The interactive tool features 59 state indicators of state performance in education, the scientific workforce, research and development (R&D) investments and activities, and high-tech business. It offers tables, charts and graphs, and permits users to view and customize data in multiple ways, such as making comparisons with other states, looking at 20 year trends, and translating financial information from current into constant dollars.

    "R&D and human capital are major drivers of innovation and the economy," said Dan Arvizu, chairman of the National Science Board. "This is a valuable resource for those who wish to see how their state is doing. Whether it's educational achievement, your state's workforce, or R&D investments, it's an excellent tool to see how your state stacks up. And it will inform debates over state policies and programs."

    Arvizu said the tool is an especially valuable resource for educators and state policymakers in understanding their state's educational landscape and for corporations and economic development officials interested in a state's workforce or technology-based business potential.

    The state data tool includes indicators on:

    • Elementary and secondary education - achievement and expenditures.

    • Higher education - degrees, spending, and costs.
    • Workforce - higher education credentials and science and engineering workers.
    • Financial R&D inputs - levels of R&D activities and public support.
    • R&D outputs - new doctorates and research activities.
    • Science and technology in the economy - business activities and capital investments.

    State policymakers and other users can consider such factors as how their state compares with neighboring or similar states, as well as with the national average. They can see whether their state is following national trends, such as conducting more R&D over the last decade, or moving in the opposite direction.

    For most indicators, the states vary widely. For example:

    • The number of science and engineering bachelor's degrees awarded in a state ranges from 9 (Alaska) to 39 (Vermont) per 1,000 individuals age 18-24.

    • The share of a state's workforce employed in science and engineering occupations ranged from 2.2 percent (Mississippi) to 7.6 percent (Virginia).
    • The amount of R&D performed, as a share of a state's gross domestic product (GDP), ranged from 0.3 percent (Wyoming) to 8 percent (New Mexico).

    "These data can shed new light on policy discussions," Arvizu said. "If you're lagging behind neighboring states or the rest of the nation, it may inform your assessment of the quality of your educational system or workforce, and what you may need to do to enhance your economic position and competitiveness."

    Researchers can also conduct their own analyses of the data by, for example, studying possible interrelationships among different indicators, such as education, R&D, and economic activity.

    The state data tool is produced by NSF's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. It supplements the latest edition of Science and Engineering Indicators, a 600-page volume that is the most comprehensive federal information and analysis of the nation's position in science and engineering education and research. The Indicators report was released in February 2014.


    From what I understand, there is one often under-discussed reason why American Students tend to drag behind (or at least not lead the pack) in standardized tests: Many of the other countries measured do not require all children to go to school through the equivalent of high school. Some countries will not allow students to go on if their grades are poor. So we are comparing all American children to the best and brightest of the rest of the world. Comparing higher education (university, college and even tech/trade schools) between countries may be a more useful metric.

    Disclaimer: I haven't actually looked into the topic deep enough to have sources. Throwing this out more as a topic for discussion or even falsification. But, if true, this would contribute to a solution of the "conundrum" of the United States falling behind in testing yet still producing world class technology.

    The countries America is compared to (200 countries are not tested so we're not compared to Sudan or something where education is only for the rich) do a lot more teaching by rote - they teach to the test, which is what we say is bad. We know that works for averages, the army makes sure everyone has baseline knowledge - but America produces great thinkers and more brilliant minds than other countries at the high end rather than having a great average in students. At least so far. The same sort of social authoritarianism that has damaged K-12 has made its way to the university level.