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Friday, August 21, 2009

Public Opinion on ACT Results

The Public Agenda has some interesting comments on the priorities parents put on education. Comments are below:

The latest ACT scores are another poke in the ribs to those who worry that American students are falling behind in math and science. But Public Agenda's research makes us wonder whether those who need to be nudged the most -- parents -- will feel a thing.

The ACT report notes slight improvements overall but found a "lack of college readiness is again most evident in the areas of science and math." Only 28 percent of the students who took the ACT are ready for college biology and 42 percent are ready for college algebra. By contrast, more than two-thirds are ready for college-level English composition.

Scott Bittle, in a blog posting, points out that one of the biggest obstacles in attacking this problem is something we've run into again and again in our research and public engagement work: the public and experts are coming at this issue from different perspectives.

Reality Check surveys have found that most parents believe their child is doing all right in school. Nearly seven in 10 believe their child will have the skills needed to succeed in college, and six in 10 say their child is getting a better education than they did.

Parents certainly don't think their local schools are flawless. They support efforts to increase math and science courses (67 percent) and say it's "crucial for today's students to learn higher level math skills" (62 percent).

But their biggest concern isn't academics. It's
social problems and student behavior. When asked about the most pressing problem facing local high schools, 73 percent of the parents said "social problems and kids who misbehave" compared to only 15 percent who said "low academic standards." Low income parents are even more concerned. Nearly three-quarters worry "a lot" about protecting their kids from drugs and alcohol, compared to 56 percent who worry a lot about low quality public schools.

So solving the math and science problem means addressing both types of concerns about what goes on in school: growing tomorrow's scientists and keeping an eye on how they behave. There are ways of bridging this gap, by using
public engagement to build support for change. Because there's no way of solving this math and science equation unless everyone gets on the same page.

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