Lewis Diuguid

Inequity persists in science, technology, engineering and math education for students of color, women

Working with thermodynamics, Courtnee Spencer, 11, inspected her work after eight minutes of shaking as she and her fellow students demonstrated making ice cream with sealable plastic bags during a celebration for their 2014 STEM & Creative Writing summer program at Linwood Family YMCA last year in Kansas City. More than 20 youth took part in the summer STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, program. A new study says more programs like it are needed for students of color.
Working with thermodynamics, Courtnee Spencer, 11, inspected her work after eight minutes of shaking as she and her fellow students demonstrated making ice cream with sealable plastic bags during a celebration for their 2014 STEM & Creative Writing summer program at Linwood Family YMCA last year in Kansas City. More than 20 youth took part in the summer STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, program. A new study says more programs like it are needed for students of color. The Kansas City Star

Minorities’ poor access to science, technology, engineering and math education makes it a critical civil rights concern, a new report says.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund notes the inequity in its report, “Advancing Equity through More and Better STEM Learning.”

“Today, only 2.2 percent of Latinos, 2.7 percent of African Americans, and 3.3 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives have earned a first university degree in the natural sciences or engineering by age 24,” the report says. “Women make up the majority of students on college campuses today and about 46 percent of the workforce, but they represent less than 20 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients in fields like computer science and engineering, and hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.”

Part of the problem is too many students of color and women don’t have access to advance placement classes, qualified teachers and resources that would give them a leg up on going to college.

In 2013, Kansas was among 11 states “where not one black student took the advanced placement computer science exam, which allows high school students to earn college credit,” the report said. The others were Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Kansas also was among eight states where no Latino students took the test. The others were Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming.

“Black students are more than four times as likely as white students to attend schools where about one-fifth of the teachers haven’t met all their state certification requirements; Latino students are twice as likely to be in these schools,” the report notes.

That is a tragedy.

When the 1954 Supreme Court Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education ruling ended legal segregation, workers without an education could get good paying jobs to support a family. That’s not the case today. Good salaries accompany STEM jobs. People with associate’s degrees or post-secondary certificates earn $53,000 a year on average, 10 percent more than non-STEM jobs requiring just as much education.

“By 2020, there will be 9 million STEM-related jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a million more than at the start of the decade, making it one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy,” the report notes. “Between now and then, STEM industries will need to hire 2.6 million new workers due to that job growth as well as retirements. At least half of those jobs will go to college graduates.... Because of the increasing diversity in America’s schools and the STEM education disparities, “the United States is not on track to fill those jobs.”

“STEM education isn’t merely a new feel-good fad,” the report says. “It is now — and will continue to be — the backbone of our dynamic and constantly changing world,” the report said. “And it’s critical that we make sure that it’s equally available to every child.”

The report’s recommendations include Congress hold hearings on the STEM inequities. Lawmakers then should craft legislation to end the disparity in elementary, secondary and higher education.

Congress and the Obama administration also should review federal programs that finance STEM education and training to ensure they are inclusive of all groups. Businesses and philanthropic organizations should do what they can to make sure STEM education reaches all students.

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