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Volume 14, Number 5
September/October 1998

From Sputnik to TIMSS

Reforms in Science Education Make Headway Despite Setbacks


When final science scores from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tests came out late last year, U.S. students proved to be behind half of those in other developed countries by the eighth grade, and dead last by the final year of secondary school. The low scores, though shocking, were not unexpected: The U.S. has been trying to overhaul science education since the Russians launched Sputnik in the 1950s, but progress has been slow.

While many new science courses were developed in the 1960s in response to Sputnik, that period of reform halted shortly after U.S. astronauts landed on the moon, according to James Rutherford, former director of Project 2061, the American Association for Advancement of Science's program for revamping K-12 science education. With the crisis over, science reform stopped short of producing a "critical mass" of newly trained teachers. "It wasn't rooted in the schools yet, so we went back to the traditional ways of doing things," says Rutherford.

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Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    "A Splintered Vision: An Investigation of U.S. Science and Mathematics Education," 1997. Available from the U.S. TIMSS National Research Center, Michigan State University, College of Education, 455 Erickson Hall, E. Lansing, MI 48824-1034.

    "Benchmarks for Science Literacy," 1993. Available from the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences/Project 2061, 1333 H. St. NW, Washington, DC 20005.

    J.R. Cannon and D.T. Crowther. "An Autopsy of an Elementary Science Program Implementation," 1997. Available from the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Ohio State University, 1929 Kenny Rd., Room 200E, Columbus, OH 43210; 614-292-3339.

    "Evaluation of the National Science Foundation's Statewide Systemic Initiatives (SSI) Program," 1998. Available from SRI International, Center for Education and Human Services, 333 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park, CA 94025.

    S. Loucks-Horsley et al. Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1998.

    "Minnesota TIMSS Report," 1997. Available from SciMathMN, 638 Capitol Square, 550 Cedar St., St. Paul, MN 55101.

    F.J. Rutherford and A. Ahlgren. Science for All Americans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

    "Science and Technology Concepts for Middle Schools," in press. Available from the National Science Resources Center, Arts & Industries Building, Room 1201, MRC 403, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560.