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Thursday
Apr252013

More US science literary data -- from Pew (an organization that definitely knows how to study US science attitudes)

The Pew Research Center has a new report out on US science attitudes & science knowledge.  I haven't read it yet but look forward too--when I get through a crunch of 4,239 other things--because Pew does great surveys generally & super great public opinion work on US public & science, a matter I've discussed before.

Maybe in the meantime one of the billions of generous, public-spirited, and insatiably curious (and opinionated!) readers of this blog will read carefully & report on contents for us.

Another thing I plan to get to, moreover, is the absurd "US is science illiterate/anti-science comparted to 'rest of developed world' meme."  Patently false.  Really interesting to try to figure out the source of the intense motivation to say and believe this...

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I've read it, but quickly. There didn't seem to be that much on science "attitudes", other than what subjects should get greater educational emphasis and how American students rank against the developed world in terms of science knowledge. I was a little surprised both by how much people knew (e.g., about the movement of continents, chemical reactions) and how much they didn't (e.g., relative size of electron and atom, lasers). And, given the often obsessive focus on the issue in the context of "cultural cognition", I thought this a bit funny:

There are only modest partisan differences in knowledge about which gas is generally seen by scientists as causing atmospheric temperatures to rise; 63% of independents say it is carbon dioxide, as do 58% of Republicans and 56% of Democrats.

April 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Ouch....only 7% got 13 of 13?

Those questions were what I would consider common for any high school grad.

I have 4 teens....Will have them take the quiz as a control. O course, since they are obviously the best looking and smartest kids around, I expect them to ace the quiz :-)

April 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Really interesting to try to figure out the source of the intense motivation to say and believe this...

I'll relate some anecdotes. I have often worked with international students studying science in graduate schools. I regularly find them absolutely astounded when I tell them the %'s of Americans who believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, that evolution is a myth, etc. They are also quite shocked when I tell them what math American students study in the later stages of high school (which they studied when they were in middle school), or when they see the (low) level of science and math knowledge of American undergraduates (at top-ranked schools) as they begin their work as international teaching assistants.

I'm not sure that explains an "intense motivation" to say that, but I do think that for many, it is evidence for why they believe it.

April 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Josh, you completely leave out the fact that Europe and Japan have a two track education system. Fail your tests in grade school and you blow your chance of going into higher education.

I started in the trades and did not go back to school to go for my BA and Masters until I was in my 40's. This would either be impossible or impossibly expensive in Europe and Japan.

So let's see something on the science education of the general European population and not just their equivalent on our Ivey League. Foreign exchange and grad students are NOT a representative sample of the populations of Europe and Japan.

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

From the Pew study:


A plurality of Americans (44%) say that average American 15-year-olds rank at the bottom on standardized tests of science knowledge, when compared with students in other developed nations. That is incorrect: According to the most recent available data from the Program for International Student Assessment, U.S. students rank among the middle of OECD nations.

This misperception was highest among women, those aged 30-49, and college grads.

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

American students' performance on standardized testing also looks better when start controlling for poverty - which gets to the comparing apples to apples point that Ed makes.

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Ed & @Joshua: We do better than Japanese -- except on "evolution"; I'm convinced that frustration over disputes on "evolution" & "climate change" are source of the absurd "science in crisis in US!" meme. Will post on this. When have spare 15 mins...

@Larry: The public perception that we are behind is interesting; shows actually that public anti-science in US too!

April 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Ed: 4 teens? You must be a wits end...

April 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Twins (B&G), B&G. Keeps life interesting.

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Re: the public perception that we're falling behind, it's interesting, and curious, that the Pew report found "no significant partisan differences" in the low evaluation of student performance compared to other developed nations. They didn't investigate that any further, but my own sense is that this doesn't imply that there are no partisan -- or, to broaden it in this context, cultural -- differences in the reason for that poor performance. For example, my guess is that "hierarchic/individualists" will tend to blame it on liberal dominance in the education establishment, and particularly on such things as an emphasis on self-esteem at the cost of achievement. "Egalitarian/communitarians", on the other hand, will tend to blame it on the baleful influence of fundamentalist religion. With the result that both sectors end up underestimating American students.

The particular issue of education in poor neighborhoods, however, is one that is drawing increasing attention across cultural divides, especially in finding ways to break through the logjam of entrenched power in educational bureaucracies and teachers' unions (see, e.g., the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'").

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Gave the 13 question quiz to the twins ( 3rd yr of high school ) and eldest daughter who is in 2nd yr of college.

None are in science or engineering

Girls scoured 13 & 12, son 10. All struggled through some of their classes. All are intelligent, but a long way from being standouts in school.

Makes me really scratch my head over the reported spread of the scores.

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

@Ed: I'm not sure that even counts of N=4, given the twins!

April 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

You started with such good point, Larry - too bad you screwed them up with this:

The particular issue of education in poor neighborhoods, however, is one that is drawing increasing attention across cultural divides, especially in finding ways to break through the logjam of entrenched power in educational bureaucracies and teachers' unions (see, e.g., the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman'").

It is cultural cognition that causes you to pull out those specific variables to explain such a complex problem. For example, charter schools do no better, on average than traditional public schools (at least as measured by standardized testing). Finland does just fine with "entrenched power in educational bureaucracies and teachers' unions. Why would those bureaucracies have a differentially greater negative impact in poor communities (public schools in wealthy communities do pretty well).

You seriously think that unionization explains why poverty tracks so closely with poor educational outcomes?

You started out so well in that comment - what happened?

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Different cultures, different histories, are likely to result in different outcomes, Joshua. And it also seems likely that schools in wealthier communities benefit from more direct parental involvement and oversight. But I'm certainly not alone in identifying current teacher unions and bureaucracies in the US as major obstacles to educational improvement. See, for another example, the PBS Frontline documentary "The Education of Michelle Rhee", which talks about trying to reform the system from within, and failing. This is, of course, just a side issue from the topic of the post, but I think that you might examine your own "cultural cognition" in your defense of an establishment that, as I say, is coming under increasing criticism from all but the most dug-in partisans.

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Keith

a curve from a tree ring in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, compiled by UK scientist Keith Briffa, and used to support Mann and his hockey stick, relied on tree sample of N=1, so I have 4 times the precision ! ! :-)

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/10/02/ross-mckitrick-sums-up-the-yamal-tree-ring-affair-in-the-financial-post/

Seriously though, I have always understood that it is the parents income and parents education that explained almost all of how kids do in school. If the parents are well off and well educated, the kids tend to also do well.

Not sure how to break the cycle for those at the bottom, but the parents are a major factor.

And the evolution debate is a horrible benchmark for testing ones scientific knowledge. I have no dog in the evolution debate as I could not care less about which side is correct. But I know science profs who enjoy arguing both sides and say there are real problems with the current theory that tend to be swept under the rug. Is this prof now "unscientific" because of this one issue?

I wrote a paper in one of my geology classes that explored the differences between Darwin and, at his time current, catastrophe theory. My position was that Darwin, with his long and slow, was wrong, and catastrophe theory with quick change and long periods of stasis was more likely correct.

I guess this just makes me evolution denier for holding Darwin to be in error :-)

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

"Why would those bureaucracies have a differentially greater negative impact in poor communities...?"

Well, just hypothetically and for the sake of argument...

There are good teachers and poor teachers. In other professions the poorest workers might get pushed out of the business, but in public service where failure does not result in bankruptcy, and where unions are powerful, it is virtually impossible to fire a teacher for incompetence. And it is impossible to recruit new and better teachers while you're still having to pay the old ones. So they hang around in the system. However, there are some market pressures in the system, so all the worst teachers tend to get eased out of the best schools in richer areas, and dumped in the inner-city pits, where nobody cares, nobody expects any better, and where it's so unpleasant to work that any decent teachers who could possibly get a job elsewhere have long since found a way out.

Yes, poverty, or rather the attitude that goes with poverty plays a big role. But there are cases of a good head teacher in an inner city school turning things around. They're rare, though, and their methods are opposed to the modern teaching philosophy that much of the profession have come to believe in. We have recently had something of the sort in the UK - the government have tried to introduce a curriculum that goes back to basics like teaching the multiplication tables, and the teaching unions have adamantly opposed it, saying they know better. The exam grades have got ever higher, and the kids' education has got steadily worse.

Hypothetically, of course.

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Dan...not Keith. Not sure what part of my conscience that came from. ???

April 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Different cultures, different histories, are likely to result in different outcomes, Joshua. And it also seems likely that schools in wealthier communities benefit from more direct parental involvement and oversight. But I'm certainly not alone in identifying current teacher unions and bureaucracies in the US as major obstacles to educational improvement. See, for another example, the PBS Frontline documentary "The Education of Michelle Rhee", which talks about trying to reform the system from within, and failing. This is, of course, just a side issue from the topic of the post, but I think that you might examine your own "cultural cognition" in your defense of an establishment that, as I say, is coming under increasing criticism from all but the most dug-in partisans.

April 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

So much presumption and generalization, NiV -

"Well, just hypothetically and for the sake of argument"

Sure - when you set out to justify a pre-determined conclusion, hypothetical can be useful. That's what cultural cognition is all about!

Yes, in other professions poor workers sometimes get pushed out, but the amount of fraud and incompetence we regularly see in other professions makes it obvious that often doesn't happen. You argue as if there is only a downside to the protections that unions provide to workers. If you ever actually worked as a teacher in public schools, you would know that isn't the case.

Of course the "legacy" cost of older teachers makes it more difficult to higher younger ones. But that is not a circumstance unique to the public sector. And "new teachers" often does not equate to "better teachers." The infusion of new teachers seen in programs like "Teach for America" have their drawbacks as well as their benefits


Your statement about "all the worst teachers....." and market forces suffers greatly from over-generalization. There are many very good teachers that work in inner cities. Is there any quality differential that is associated with schools in wealthier and poorer communities? In my experience teaching in public schools in a variety of communities, yes, but it isn't as categorical as you envision, and there are many factors other than just the existence of unionization. For example, there are many poor teachers in privatized charter schools and as I said, charter schools on average return no better results than traditional public schools on average.

Your generalizations about how "nobody cares" and "nobody expects any better" are inaccurate caricatures.

Similarly, your focus on the "big role" of "attitude" in the educational problems created by poverty reflects an interesting process of selection. Certainly, there are many factors that play "big roles.' That doesn't mean that in any way I downplay the importance of the parental role in educational outcomes.

And your notion of the practices in charter schools (or schools that are having improved success in inner cities) being in opposition to "the modern teaching philosophy" is also just a caricature. It is hard to know what you mean by such a caricature as "the modern teaching philosophy," but much of the pedagogy being employed by many successful charter schools is not incompatible with much that is accepted in most educational circles; the incompatibilities relate more to the non-pedagogical aspeccts of schools. Sure, teaching abstract algorithms and rote exercises such bmultiplication tables has its usefulness, but it hardly replaces fundamental pedagogy such as developmentally appropriate focus on teaching underlying concepts such place value.

Google Pasi Sahlberg. Read about him and Finnish schools (heavily unionized with no standardized testing) and see what he has to say about much of the "educational reform" being peddled these days.

April 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Sure - when you set out to justify a pre-determined conclusion, hypothetical can be useful."

I wasn't trying to justify it. Hypotheticals are for demonstrating that something is possible, not that something is true. You asked "Why would those bureaucracies have a differentially greater negative impact in poor communities...?" as if it was a hard question to answer, in order to justify the position that teachers and their unions couldn't have anything to do with it. (Are you motivated?) I'm just saying it's actually quite easy to come up with mechanisms/reasons, if you're not motivated not to. :-)

"Yes, in other professions poor workers sometimes get pushed out, but the amount of fraud and incompetence we regularly see in other professions makes it obvious that often doesn't happen."

True. It obviously varies. So?

"You argue as if there is only a downside to the protections that unions provide to workers. If you ever actually worked as a teacher in public schools, you would know that isn't the case."

I haven't said there's only a downside. I've only mentioned the one aspect of unionisation relevant to this situation, which happens to be a downside. You're being defensive.

"Of course the "legacy" cost of older teachers makes it more difficult to higher younger ones."

I didn't say younger ones, I said new and better ones. That could easily mean older people recruited from other industries.

"But that is not a circumstance unique to the public sector."

Not entirely, no. All industries have issues with employment protection laws, but public service is less motivated to overcome them.

"In my experience teaching in public schools in a variety of communities, yes, but it isn't as categorical as you envision"

How categorically do I envision it? I'm making no claims. Just offering a plausible scenario, hypothetically.
I'm interested to hear there may be even some partial truth to it.

"Your generalizations about how "nobody cares" and "nobody expects any better" are inaccurate caricatures."

Yes? Why hasn't anybody done anything about it, then?

Politics is driven by middle-class interests - the median-voter theorem and all that. Yes, people "care", but it's not a priority. People think of it as too big and hard a problem to fix, so they spend their money and effort where it is perceived to do more good.

"Similarly, your focus on the "big role" of "attitude" in the educational problems created by poverty reflects an interesting process of selection."

What I meant was that poverty as such is not the issue. Educational success is not a product for sale in the shops, that parents can buy. It's other stuff associated with poverty. And in my limited experience, the biggest reason for lack of success in school was not wanting to study - because it was 'too hard', 'boring', 'not cool', or because they had other interests. Education was not an opportunity, it was a chore. It was an attitude thing - and the anti-academic attitude seemed most prevalent amongst the less well off. I'm sure there are lots of reasons for it. But as a hypothetical, I only really have to supply one for plausibility.

"Sure, teaching abstract algorithms and rote exercises such multiplication tables has its usefulness, but it hardly replaces fundamental pedagogy such as developmentally appropriate focus on teaching underlying concepts such place value."

That sort of suggests we're being offered a choice. We want both. I expect kids coming out of school to be able to multiply and do long division, AND to understand place value. We're told that emphasis on learning multiplication tables has been dropped in favour of deeper conceptual learning, but it's very hard to pin down exactly what deeper concepts they're learning that earlier generations didn't. It often seems they emerge from school without either.

"Google Pasi Sahlberg. Read about him and Finnish schools"

Yes. He sounds very sensible.

"Many other countries have probably done a different way. But in Finland, we decided that early childhood development and primary teachers, pre-school teachers and primary teachers are the key. And that’s why we require they will have an academic higher degree before they can teach."

"What I hear from foreign visitors to Finland, and we have a massive number of people coming, many of them they are surprised to see how much responsibility for learning in Finnish schools is with the pupils. So they are driving the learning and development, not the teachers and if you have this type of system, where the responsibility of learning and development is primarily with the learners themselves. You cannot rely on numbers and testing."

Quality of teachers and student attitude - what good ideas! :-)

April 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV, you have it right.

One of the main problems with education was that there was no incentive to improve. "get along...go along" was much easier for both the union and admin. There was no down side for the education industry if Johny or Jil could not read, write, or do math.

This is starting to change though. For all the bad with No Child, and there is much that is bad, it has started to give incentive for admin to weed out bad teachers.

My wife has her degree in math and has been in education for 25 yrs. The last 6 yrs she has been in professional development for classroom teachers. Teachers with poor teaching skills are being identified and being given strategies to improve their classroom performance. Those who do not improve their teaching skills are being edged out of teaching. Admin can no longer ignore teachers with poor skills as these teachers with poor skills now impact the evaluations given to admin. Poor evaluations for an admin due to teachers with poor teaching skills under them can now lose the admin their job.

'pour encourager les autres' is a useful management tool and is returning to education.

April 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Something for the hopper:

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/education/is-evolution-missing-link-in-some-pennsylvania-high-schools-685389/

An interesting passage:

The Post-Gazette questionnaire this spring drew 106 responses from science teachers. It asked them to choose one or more answers to a question of what they believe in: evolution, creationism, intelligent design or not sure/other.

Ninety percent chose evolution; 19 percent said they believe in creationism, not defined in the questionnaire; 13 percent said they believe in intelligent design; and another 5 percent answered "not sure/other." Teachers were allowed to list more than one option, so the numbers don't total 100 percent. But the clear conclusion is that while most do, not all science teachers espouse evolution, with a notable minority speaking up in favor of creationism.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/education/is-evolution-missing-link-in-some-pennsylvania-high-schools-685389/#ixzz2Ro5jwzjY

An interesting graphic:

http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/images/201304/20130428_evolution_full.png


And interesting quote:

“I have been questioned in the past about how I teach evolution principles, and [school officials] are satisfied with my approach,” he said. “My approach is to teach the textbook content of Darwinian evolution but modified to explain that data can be interpreted differently dependent upon one’s world view.”

No doubt.

It would be interesting to know what % of high school science teachers in Europe or Scandinavia or Asia identify as believing in creationism or intelligent design.

April 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"It would be interesting to know what % of high school science teachers in Europe or Scandinavia or Asia identify as believing in creationism or intelligent design."

Probably more than you'd think. In the general population belief seems to be running at about half the American level.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Views_on_Evolution.svg

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

My guess is that the differential for high school science teachers is greater than among the general public. I say this based on my anecdotal experiences - discussing the issue with (highly educated) international executives (even those from heavily catholic countries) and international graduate students (also highly educated - although the % the students from heavily catholic countries that I've discussed this with is lower than with the execs).

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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