ETS Poll: Americans See Math and Science as Key to U.S. Competitiveness

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Washington, D.C. (June 21, 2006) —

This press release is also available in Spanish.

In a major new opinion survey on education reform, a majority of adults, parents, high school teachers, administrators and college faculty believe that our nation's schools are coming up short in putting students on the path to compete for highly technical scientific and engineering jobs with young people from other countries and are going to have to challenge students more if America is to maintain its global economic edge.

The results are from Keeping Our Edge: Americans Speak on Education and Competitiveness, ETS's sixth annual "Americans Speak" public opinion poll. The poll was conducted for ETS by Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster David Winston.

"For the sixth year in a row, Americans have given our nation's schools a grade of 'C' and parents have given their children's schools a 'B' and indicated that they believe the public education system is generally doing O.K.," says ETS President Kurt Landgraf. "But they also believe that in today's competitive global economy, doing O.K. is not good enough, and they support improving math, science and technology learning and skills."

The survey reinforced widespread support for reform and the importance of education in preparing students for global competition. In this, it mirrors the reasoning and many of the proposals set forth in the National Academies' report Rising Above the Gathering Storm and President Bush's American Competitive Initiative. It revealed the following opinions about our nation's public schools:

  • Fifty-five percent of adults believe the public schools are coming up short or falling behind in teaching the basics, such as math, science and writing.
  • Nearly half (47%) believe gifted students are not being challenged enough to make the most of their talents and are not ready to compete against the best-educated scientists and engineers in the global economy.
  • A majority of public high school students (73%), teachers (54%) and administrators (56%) believe schools are doing well enough in giving students who want to go into the work force the training and skills they need to get and then succeed in a job. A majority of adults (58%), college faculty (65%) and opinion leaders (59%) believe just the opposite.
  • A majority (70%) believe our nation's schools are coming up short on engaging students and preventing students from dropping out of school.

"American experts who travel to China, India and elsewhere come home saying, 'Watch out.' This poll shows that Americans are hearing that message loud and clear, and understand that we must maintain our brainpower advantage in this country so we can keep and grow good jobs here instead of shipping them overseas," said U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). "That's why I've been working with Senators Domenici, Bingaman, and Mikulski on the Protecting America's Competitive Edge Act. The PACE Act will help strengthen our nation's education system by improving teacher training in math and science, recruiting more math and science teachers, and providing opportunities for math and science experts to fill our nation's schools and improve the curriculum and classroom experience for schoolchildren. Better schools, better universities, more research, more math and science – it all means better jobs."

"In today's economy jobs in technical fields are growing at five times the rate of other occupations, and they pay better," adds poll co-author Peter Hart. "Parents, students, teachers, administrators, college faculty, and opinion leaders recognize that it's important for students to have a strong math and science background. If we don't act now to improve students' skills in these areas, they stand to be the first generation of Americans worse off economically than their parents."

Americans Speak on Leadership

"The survey shows that American parents understand the threat to our nation's economic engine," adds Landgraf. "They understand that the key to future success rests in our efforts to improve math and science learning. But it also reveals that the American people believe that it is everyone's responsibility, especially those in leadership positions, to stop debating and take the actions necessary to make reform happen."

All respondents strongly favored a variety of reforms, including changes to teacher-hiring practices, creation of a "master teacher" position, and allowing students to participate in work-study programs. Most adults, parents and administrators support making sure students are mastering core subject areas by requiring them to pass a statewide graduation test before they receive a high school diploma. Even most high school students (72%) favored this.

"Americans' willingness to embrace such a variety of reforms is a sign that the public is willing to go further if its leaders are ready to go," said poll co-author David Winston. "The public is demanding that our leaders at every level accomplish more and challenging them to do it quickly, before the United States loses its competitive advantage."

Other survey results showed the following:

  • Fifty-four percent of K-12 parents and 51% of high school parents moved, or selected, their family residence based on the school district where their home is located.
  • A majority (66%) of adults see a big problem in students getting passed through the high school system without the skills they need for college or work.
  • A majority of adults (57%) and college faculty (53%) believe that we are coming up short on measuring high schools to ensure that students are learning, but high school students (67%), teachers (63%) and administrators (66%) say the schools are doing well enough.

From May 22 to June 2, 2006, Peter D. Hart Research Associates and The Winston Group conducted a national survey among 1,215 adults, including 512 K-12 parents, and 301 high school parents. In addition, 231 high school students, 150 high school teachers, 150 high school administrators, 151 college faculty, and 151 opinion leaders (persons in business, association/advocacy, and state/local government) were also surveyed.

About ETS

ETS is a nonprofit institution with the mission to advance quality and equity in education by providing fair and valid assessments, research and related services for all people worldwide. In serving individuals, educational institutions and government agencies around the world, ETS customizes solutions to meet the need for teacher professional development products and services, classroom and end-of-course assessments, research-based teaching and learning tools, and school improvement consulting and support. Founded in 1947, ETS today develops, administers and scores more than 24 million tests annually in more than 180 countries, at over 9,000 locations worldwide.