Pew survey: 84% of scientists say US lagging on STEM education is a ‘major problem’

(AP Photo/Destination Science, Jon C. Haverstick)
(AP Photo/Destination Science, Jon C. Haverstick)

Latvia, Vietnam, Italy, New Zealand, and Poland. What do these countries have in common? Well, besides sheep, they all score higher than the United States on standardized math tests, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

The mediocre math and science scores among US students has been well-known for a while now, and public opinion reflects that. Only 29 percent of Americans rate the US Science, Technology, Education, and Math, or STEM, education as above average or best in the world. Thirty-nine rate it as average, and another 29 percent rate it as below average.

Scientists are even more critical than the public. Fully 46 percent of scientists in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS, surveyed think that American STEM education is below average, and only 16 percent rate it as above average or the best in the world.

Despite the low public and scientific opinion on the state of STEM education, gains have been made to rectify the problem in recent years. A report by the National Science Foundation found that US fourth graders and eighth graders have made “substantial gains in mathematics since 1990.”

According to Pew, the AAAS scientists also attribute the lack of science and math education to a limited public science knowledge — a fact which was identified by 84 percent of the scientists as a “major problem.” The Pew Research Center writes that, “…when asked about four possible reasons for the public having limited science knowledge, three-quarters of AAAS scientists in the new survey say too little K-12 STEM education is a major factor.”

The Pew report was based on surveys by the Pew Research Center and the AAAS. The Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted fieldwork for both of the surveys.