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Add Energy to What Students Don’t Know

March 23, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ When it comes to energy education, most students know only how to save it, a poll showed Thursday.

The National Energy Education Development Project said a poll of 25,000 American students in 32 states found most characterized themselves as energy savers.

Yet the results showed most of the students have great difficulty understanding and identifying such basic concepts about energy and the environment as estimated costs, efficiency factors, predominant uses and properties of the nation’s various fuel sources.

″Students should know and care as much about the debate over clean air as they do Air Jordans,″ said Gerard Katz, director of the NEED Project. ″The assessment will provide a starting point so we can better educate young people to make informed decisions about the many complex energy issues facing our society.″

The poll - described as the only census of its kind - was released by the National Assessment Committee of the NEED Project to mark the 10th anniversary since Congress and the White House launched the project as a means to boost energy awareness among consumers.

The 11-question survey involved 12,326 middle grade students and 11,921 high school students, as well as about 2000 educators from 15 states. Students consistently scored about 10 percent correct, and teachers about 33 percent.

Only 25 percent of the students could consistently correctly identify the major use of coal - to make electricity. Teachers correctly answered the question 65 percent of the time.

″The test scores, while disappointing in the abstract,″ show that schools are beginning to seriously study energy issues, said Sen. Mark Hatfield, R- Ore.

In the secondary school version of the poll, most students were only able to correctly answer two to three of the so-called knowledge questions designed to measure students’ recognition of significant factual information.

The question most frequently answered correctly identified heating and cooling as a home’s largest energy-consuming job. Forty-four percent of the students selected it.

Middle school students were only able to correctly answer three to four of the questions. Most cumulative school scores ranged between 2.5 and 3.9 with the highest school socre being 4.8.

Other key results were:

-70 percent of those asked didn’t know uranium gives off energy when the atoms are split.

-54.9 percent of elementary students are able to define why solar power is a renewable energy source. Only a third of the secondary students can give correct answers; 38 percent think renewables are of relative importance to our energy mix, when they actually constitute a mere 10 percent.

-43 percent correctly answered that natural gas, methane, is the cleanest burning fossil fuel; 27.5 percent know that in addition to heating homes and buildings, natural gas is used as a transportation fuel and a source of making plastics.

-Only a 10th were anywhere in the ball park of $0.08 a kilowatt hour as the cost of electricity, while a third think electricity is eight to 20 times more expensive than it is.

Of the high school students, 44 percent characterized themselves as an occasional energy saver and 28 percent as energy savers. Five percent listed ″super energy saver.″ Four percent said they are ″energy wasters″ and 19 percent said ″I usually don’t pay attention to my energy use.″

Twelve percent of the middle grade students said they were super energy savers, 46 percent listed energy saver, 6 percent said energy waster and 36 percent pay little attention to energy use.

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