Study Explains The Sad Reason Behind The Achievement Gap In Science

The seeds of the achievement gap in science are planted before a child has ever set foot in an elementary school, according to a new study.

The new report out this month looks to explain why white, upper-class eighth-graders tend to perform much better in science than their low-income and minority peers.

Unfortunately, the answer involves a series of factors beyond any child’s control. By the time they enter kindergarten, white, affluent students already have a much larger general knowledge of science than their minority classmates, the study shows. This gap follows white and black students beyond elementary school to middle school, where more affluent students substantially outperform their peers on measures of science achievement.

The authors of the study — from Pennsylvania State University and University of California, Irvine — based their findings on a nationally representative sample of over 7,000 kids who entered kindergarten in 1998. Data on the children, maintained through the National Center for Education Statistics, was collected until 2007.

The study’s findings could have insidious consequences for the country. Employees of color are already vastly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. As growing wealth disparities continue to divide the country, low levels of science achievement have the potential “to derail the nation’s long-term global competitiveness,” the study says.

Researchers decided to explore this topic after hearing alarm over “declining global competitiveness because of increasingly low levels of engineering and science and technology and mathematics-related work and degree completion,” said Paul Morgan, associate professor in the education policy department at Penn State and author of the study.

Even though science achievement gaps begin early, Morgan believes schools can help address these disparities.

“We need to have some sort of coordinated attempt,” Morgan said. An effort “that involves parents, preschool teachers and policymakers working together —> Read More