Does science content matter? And what do our colleagues in college admissions offices think?

When asked by Sumter County Teacher of the Year Melynda Shea whether the Common Core standards would push science out of the K-12 classroom during Governor Scott’s Teacher of the Year Roundtable last week (video available here), Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett gave a lengthy response that included this:

It’s ironic you brought this up because I just had a scientist – a physics professor from Florida State – in my office just this morning, and he was talking about how do we make sure we don’t lose science. And I said to him I’ve gotta ask you a question, your admissions folks constantly tell us that science content – pure content – isn’t as important as science reasoning for college and career readiness, that the universities believe they can teach content.  They need students that are prepared to reason in science.  So it’s a really interesting discussion…

So…do college admissions officers believe that specific science content doesn’t matter in high school?  Perhaps they do – it wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

But to the point that lies at the foundation of this discussion:  Does specific science content in high school matter?  The research says yes, unambiguously.

Start with this from Phil Sadler and Robert Tai, Science Vol. 317, page 457-458, from the 27 July 2007 issue:

We found, not surprisingly, that high-school courses in biology, chemistry, and physics prepare students for college courses in the same field….The two pillars supporting college science appear to be study in the same science subject and more advanced study of mathematics in high school.

And then there are the results in the 2007 study by Will Tyson et al., referenced many times in this blog.  To wit:  Taking physics in high school doubles the probability that a student will earn a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field.


But to return to the issue of the beliefs of college admissions officers:  Does it matter what they think?  If the Florida Education Commissioner – one of the most important people in the nation’s K-12 enterprise – thinks it matters, then it matters.  National organizations that advocate for stronger science education should seriously consider finding out whether there is quantitative truth behind the Commissioner’s assertion.      

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