For Immediate Release:

Iris R. Weiss


Chapel Hill, NC - December 13, 2001 - A new report released today by Horizon Research, Inc. describes the status of science and mathematics education in kindergarten through the twelfth grade (K-12) in the United States. The 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education included approximately 6,000 teachers in over 1,200 public and private schools. The study was conducted by Horizon Research, Inc with support from the National Science Foundation. The full report of the 2000 National Survey can be accessed at

The 2000 National Survey documents that in the elementary grades, much less instructional time is devoted to science instruction than to mathematics. On a typical day, nearly all grade K-4 classes spend time on mathematics instruction, compared to only 7 in 10 for science instruction. Further, while mathematics lessons in the early grades tend to be substantially longer than science lessons, the amount of time devoted to reading/language arts instruction in elementary schools dwarfs that spent on either mathematics or science.

Based on teachers' descriptions of their most recent lesson, more than 80 percent of the science lessons in grades K-12 include discussion, and a majority of lessons include lecture. Use of hands-on/laboratory activities varies by grade range; approximately 6 in 10 science lessons in grades K-4 involve students doing hands-on/laboratory activities, compared to 5 in 10 in grades 5-8 and 4 in 10 in high school. Group work is included in more than half of all science lessons.

Discussion and lecture are also very prominent in mathematics instruction, as is the use of textbook/worksheet problems. Ninety percent or more of mathematics lessons include discussion; more than 75 percent, textbook/worksheet problems; and 70 percent or more, lecture. The use of hands-on/manipulative activities decreases sharply from 75 percent of mathematics lessons in grades K-4 to only 19 percent in high school.

Computer use in science instruction is quite infrequent across grade ranges, but varies by type of use. In the elementary grades, computers are used mostly for drill and practice, compared to the high school level where teachers use them primarily for laboratory simulations. While computer use in mathematics instruction is also infrequent (ranging from 3 percent of the lessons in high school to 7 percent in the elementary grades), calculator use is fairly common, especially in the high school grades, where 80 percent of lessons involve their use.

Elementary teachers report feeling less well qualified to teach science than the other subjects for which they are responsible. While roughly 75 percent of elementary teachers feel very well qualified to teach reading/language arts, approximately 60 percent feel very well qualified to teach mathematics and only about 25 percent feel very well qualified to teach science. Elementary teachers feel less well qualified than their middle school and high school counterparts to teach both science and mathematics.

The study found that science and mathematics teachers are strikingly similar across subjects and grade ranges in the needs they perceive for their own professional development. Topping the list of reported needs is learning how to use technology for instruction. Among science teachers in grades K-8, deepening their content knowledge ranked a close second. Participation in professional development activities related to science and mathematics teaching is generally low, especially among teachers in grades K-8 where less than 25 percent of the teachers have spent four or more days in professional development related to these subjects over the last three years. By their own accounts, elementary teachers are the group most in need of professional development, especially related to science, and the least likely to participate in it.

There appears to be a mismatch between the needs teachers perceive and the topics emphasized in their professional development; in general, one-third or fewer of the respondents reported a strong emphasis in an area where they indicated a strong need for professional development. Less than a third of the teachers who participated in science and mathematics-related professional development indicated that they changed their teaching practice as a result.

Data from the 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education also indicate differences in perceptions of problems in schooling. While the general public expresses concern about maintaining discipline, and policymakers about class size, survey respondents were much more likely to cite lack of funds for equipment and supplies as a serious problem. The typical elementary school spent a total of $2.37 per student on consumable supplies for mathematics and science instruction in the previous year. The typical elementary teacher reported spending more than that out of her own pocket ($70 per class).

Horizon Research, Inc. (HRI) is a private research firm located in Chapel Hill, NC. HRI specializes in research and evaluation on issues related to K-12 science and mathematics education.

Horizon Research, Inc.
326 Cloister Court
Chapel Hill, NC 27514