What, me take calculus?

If students and parents in Kansas and Missouri are any indication (and it is the Heartland, after all), a deep grasp of math, science and technology is not high on the priority list of most American families. A recent study by Public Agenda, “It’s Important, But Not for Me,”finds that just 25% of Kansas/Missouri parents think their children should be studying more math and science; 70% think things “are fine as they are now.”

Students are not particularly impressed by the abstract notion that they should take more math, science and technology (MST) courses to be “internationally competitive.” They could be convinced to take higher level classes, says Public Agenda vice president Jean Johnson, “if they believed [the classes] were essential for the career and college opportunities to which they aspire.”

Parents aren’t all that stirred up, either. While 86 percent agree that “students with advanced math and science skills will have a big advantage when it comes to work and college opportunities,” that awareness doesn’t translate into parental pressure for their kids to tackle challenging coursework. The survey results suggest that parents, by and large, agree with students who don’t see how the higher level learning will benefit them personally. Tie it to college admissions, however, and parents start paying attention.

The focus group portion of the research indicated very low levels of understanding among students of just what sorts of careers involved knowledge of math, science and technology. Together this suggests that families would likely put more emphasis on advanced MST education in high school if universities and trade schools mandated MST prerequisites for a greater number of incoming students whose intended majors necessitate such knowledge.

One result of the Public Agenda research: policy makers and educators in Kansas and Missouri are “rethinking strategies” to help families see the relevance of the MST disciplines to personal goals. They’ll keep the news about the flat world to themselves.