The National Research Council recently reported the United States is slipping in its leadership in science and technology fields and recommended "vastly improving" K-12 education in math and science.
Research by Robert H. Tai, assistant professor of science education at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, agrees with this recommendation. At a time when more schools are focusing on reading and math to beef up standardized test scores, Tai's research, to be published in the May 26 issue of Science magazine, suggests this focus may ignore the importance of an early emphasis on science.
Tai and U.Va. researchers Christine Qui Liu, Adam V. Maltese and Xitao Fan analyzed data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study, begun in 1988, to see if expectations about science made a difference in later choice of college academic study.
"To the question, does it matter if a person decides early on whether to pursue science? The answer is yes," Tai said. "While the outcome may not be surprising, in light of the many stories we've all heard about the lives of famous scientists, this study put this notion to the test and found a link between early life expectations and future life outcomes."
Tai and the research team looked at a random national sample of 3,359 students who had first been surveyed in eighth grade and who received college degrees by 2000. The study focused on the survey question, "What kind of work do you expect to be doing when you are 30 years old?" Connecting this question to data collected from the same students years later, the researchers could identify those who had selected the option of science-related jobs compared to students who chose nonscience jobs and then majored in life sciences or phys
Contact: Anne Bromley
University of Virginia