Survey of Math/Science Teachers Shows Rich Data

March 4, 2013

Last week, Horizon Research released the 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education, a representative survey of STEM-focused teachers across the range of subjects and grade levels. And the results, while they'll surprise few involved closely with math and science policy and education, there are still plenty of important lessons in the rich report. A few quick ones are summarized below. 

1.) (Math + Science) < Reading/ELA 

Most policymakers will tell you that a budget asserts priorities; in schools, allocated time does the same. According to the survey -- and EdWeek has a great to-the-minute breakdown -- K-3 classrooms typically receive 19 minutes of science instruction per day (as a note, most classrooms don't do science daily) and 54 minutes of math instruction, but 89 minutes of reading and language arts instruction. There has been a statistically significant drop since 2000, which CTEq's own Vital Signs data also confirmed. In the upper grades, STEM makes some gains but doesn't quite catch reading. While ensuring that students learn to read before third grade is essential so children can make the switch from "learning to read" to "reading to learn," as many districts institute automatic retention policies at third grade, a shaky foundation in math and science in the early years will lead to trouble down the road, too. 

2.) Professional development needs a meaningful boost 

Professional development is necessary for replenishing skills and knowledge, but few teachers report having participated in enough professional development to make an effective impact. Without a sustained time investment, PD has little chance to be meaningful for teachers, and most educators report attending only a few hours' worth of PD over the last three years. In elementary school, for instance, only 59 percent of teachers receiving any science professional development in the last three years -- and 15 percent had never received any science PD. Further, of those teachers that had received any science professional development in the last three years, most (65 percent) received six hours or fewer. Split out, that's approximately 2 hours of science PD a year. Without investing meaningfully in training teachers, it's unlikely that the relatively time allotted will increase.

Math and secondary teachers fared better -- nearly a third of middle school teachers reported spending more than 35 hours on math PD workshops in the last three years, for instance -- but a greater investment in ongoing, intensive professional development is needed at all levels. 

3.) Equity and technology matter 

... but it's tough to make direct correlations. There were a few anticipated discrepancies -- for instance, classrooms with the lowest percentages of non-Asian minorities were also the most likely to not have graphing and scientific caculators. And high-achieving classrooms are more likely to receive resources, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. But rural schools spend more per pupil on math and science education, compared to suburban or rural schools; similarly, spending on science equipment varies erratically. The quartile of schools with the lowest percentage of students in poverty receives the most money (predictably), but are followed with the third-highest quartile of schools in poverty. The second-lowest quartile receives the least --  so, the schools with the highest levels of poverty spend more on science than the schools in the second-richest quartile. Given these idiosyncracies, correlation and causation are unclear, but it's a good starting point. 

Tags: math, science