Skip all navigation and go to page content

Chapter 1. Elementary and Secondary Mathematics and Science Education


National and state education policies continue to focus on improving learning by U.S. students. Policy goals include increasing student achievement overall, reducing disparities in performance among key subgroups of students, and moving the international ranking of U.S. students from the middle to the top over the next decade (The White House n.d.). STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) have been a strong focus of recent reform efforts, including developing common core standards across states, strengthening curricula, promoting advanced coursetaking, enhancing teacher quality, raising graduation requirements, and expanding technology use in education.

This chapter presents indicators of elementary and secondary mathematics and science education in the United States, drawing mainly on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education. Table 1-1 presents an overview of the topics covered in this chapter and the indicators used to illuminate the topics.

The chapter begins by summarizing the most recent data on student achievement in mathematics and science, focusing on recent trends in student performance, changes in performance gaps, and the relative international standing of U.S. students.[1] It also includes new indicators of mathematics and science performance by students in charter schools, trends in mathematics achievement among very high-scoring students, and the results of an algebra assessment of ninth graders.

The chapter then focuses on mathematics and science coursetaking in high school. This edition includes new data on trends in total and advanced mathematics and science credits earned by high school graduates and enrollment in algebra before high school. It also discusses the "common core standards" effort and state participation in that effort, subjects new to this volume.

The chapter turns next to public school mathematics and science teachers, examining their educational attainment, licensure, experience, professional development, attrition, salaries, and working conditions. All teacher indicators in this chapter use the latest available data, which derive from the 2007–08 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS).

The chapter closes with indicators of students' transitions from secondary to postsecondary education—the subject of chapter 2 in this volume. Updated indicators include on-time high school graduation rates, immediate college enrollment rates, and international comparisons of high school graduation rates and postsecondary enrollment.

The chapter focuses primarily on overall patterns but also reports variation in access to educational resources by schools' minority concentration and poverty level and in student performance by sex, race/ethnicity, and family and school characteristics. Whenever a difference or change over time is cited in this chapter, it is statistically significant at the 0.05 probability level.[2]


[1] The terms achievement and performance are used interchangeably in this section when discussing scores on mathematics and science assessments.
[2] Differences between two estimates were tested using Student's t-test statistic to minimize the chances of concluding that a difference exists based on the sample when no true difference exists in the population from which the sample was drawn. These tests were done with a significance level of 0.05, which means that a reported difference would occur by chance no more than once in 20 samples when there was no actual difference between the population means.