Most countries emphasize an effective science education, in part with the expectation that science-literate adults will understand, and often participate more fully in science-related policy decisions. However, in assessing adult basic civic science literacy over time, many factors change simultaneously, making definitive conclusions about educational effects difficult. For example, more recent generations often have more formal education and more exposure to science than earlier cohorts. Age and generational effects are confounded in "one-shot" cross-sectional analyses but can be disentangled to some degree in repeated cross-sectional sample survey designs.

I employ multivariate analyses of the U.S. National Science Foundation Surveys of Public Understanding of Science and Technology, 1979-2001 (total sample ~22,000) to study how recency of educational exposure (age), generation (e.g., "baby boomer"), gender, and educational factors affect basic science factual knowledge and understanding science inquiry. General levels of understanding inquiry were somewhat greater than basic factual knowledge, although both showed some increase by time and, especially, by generation or birth cohort. More sophisticated presentations in U.S. science education have increased U.S. basic science literacy across time by cohort, over and above one’s formal degree level accomplishments.

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Generational and educational effects on basic U.S. adult civic science literacy

Susan Carol Losh   Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems

Most countries emphasize an effective science education, in part with the expectation that science-literate adults will understand, and often participate more fully in science-related policy decisions. However, in assessing adult basic civic science literacy over time, many factors change simultaneously, making definitive conclusions about educational effects difficult. For example, more recent generations often have more formal education and more exposure to science than earlier cohorts. Age and generational effects are confounded in "one-shot" cross-sectional analyses but can be disentangled to some degree in repeated cross-sectional sample survey designs.

I employ multivariate analyses of the U.S. National Science Foundation Surveys of Public Understanding of Science and Technology, 1979-2001 (total sample ~22,000) to study how recency of educational exposure (age), generation (e.g., "baby boomer"), gender, and educational factors affect basic science factual knowledge and understanding science inquiry. General levels of understanding inquiry were somewhat greater than basic factual knowledge, although both showed some increase by time and, especially, by generation or birth cohort. More sophisticated presentations in U.S. science education have increased U.S. basic science literacy across time by cohort, over and above one’s formal degree level accomplishments.

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