Study Indicates Science Gap Begins Before School Does

Young girl playing with chemistry set

A new study proves what we’ve suspected for awhile now: The gap in STEM education between privileged and unprivileged students starts early.
Image: Shutterstock

A new study on the science gap in American schools has some disheartening news: The achievement gap in science between white, upper-income students and their underserved and minority peers begins even before students enter school. Before their first day of kindergarten, realities about social perception have already saturated a child. Minorities are already very aware that they are minorities, which means that they’re aware of what that means in a broader social context.

The authors of the study, hailing from Pennsylvania State University and University of California, Irvine, used a nationally-representative sample population of more than 7,000 students from across the country, all of whom entered kindergarten in 1998. The data stretches all the way until 2007.

The study provides evidence of what we already suspected: White, privileged children tend to outperform their low-income and minority classmates. The research also suggests that if this trend continues, the STEM fields could become even more exclusively white, and that does a disservice to us all. These fields already lack diversity to an alarming degree.

Some places, like Slack, are working to increase the diversity in their employee population: 43 percent of the current managers are women and 7 percent are black. That may not seem like a lot, but as far as the tech industry goes, it’s quite impressive. To compare, Twitter’s tech staff is only 13 percent women, and black people make up only 1% of their workforce.

However, the authors of the study believe there are things that schools can do to make their science and technology programs more inclusive. They encourage teachers to introduce a very basic level of science education into their classrooms that all students can understand. Paul Morgan, one of the researchers, also recommends that parents ask their children—even their toddlers—more questions about science, as well as encouraging them to talk about what they see and to ask questions themselves.

This method benefits both the adult and the child, as adults also often have low levels of science understanding and education. The more everybody learns, the better.

“We need to have some kind of coordinated attempt,” Morgan says. “An effort that involves parents, preschool teachers, and policymakers working together to help address these disparities that emerge so early.”

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