ERIC Identifier: ED433216
Publication Date: 1999-05-00
Author: Clark, Julia V.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Minorities in Science and Math. ERIC Digest.
While the nation is concerned about the shortage of teachers at the K-12
grade levels, especially in science and mathematics, there is also continuous
concern about attracting and retaining more students in these subject areas.
Looking to the year 2000 and beyond, we face the potential of a serious
shortfall in the number of individuals entering the fields of science and
mathematics. This is especially true for underrepresented minority students
(Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians). In the years ahead, these
underrepresented minorities will constitute a growing population within the pool
of students from which a highly skilled workforce will be drawn.
Minorities are underrepresented at every level from elementary to graduate
school. Lack of preparation in science among under-represented minority groups
in the early elementary grades undermines enrollment and success in
secondary-level school programs and, ultimately, in college and career choices
later in life.
As the nation's economic base shifts increasingly toward technology,
participation and achievement in science and mathematics among minority students
become increasingly important. Unfortunately, minority students, those who form
the most rapidly growing portion of our school-age population, are the ones that
are most left out of science and mathematics. By not studying these subjects,
both the minority students and the United States as a whole stand to lose. The
minority students are depriving themselves of many career choices, including the
skilled technical and computer-oriented occupations as well as access to white
male-dominated, high salaried occupations. Further, a basic understanding of
science and mathematics is essential for all students, not only those pursuing
careers in scientific and technical fields. Adequate preparation in science and
mathematics enables students to develop intellectually and socially, and
participate fully in a technological society as informed citizens (Clark, 1996).
The United States can meet future potential shortfalls of scientists and
engineers only by reaching out and bringing members of underrepresented
minorities into science and engineering. America's standing and competitiveness
depend on it (Task Force on Women, Minorities, and the Handicapped in Science
and Technology, 1988).
Differing fertility rates,
immigration patterns, and age distributions, and thus death rates, of population
subgroups suggest that the 21st century profile will contrast sharply with that
of the 20th century. If the pattern continues, around the year 2030 the total
elementary-school-age cohort of the United States could be about equally divided
between Whites and all other racial and ethnic groups combined. Over the next 20
years, Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Asian Americans would together
outnumber the total White population of elementary school children (Hodgkinson,
1992). The composition of this projected workforce causes great concern in the
scientific community and suggests that the United States must make greater
efforts in increasing the proportion of minorities choosing careers in science.
STATUS OF MINORITIES IN SCIENCE
Too few minorities (Blacks,
Hispanics and Native Americans) are represented among the population of
scientists in the United States. Despite substantial gain over the past decade,
minorities are still underrepresented in science and engineering, both in
employment and training (NSF, 1996).
Data from the National Science Foundation (NSF, 1994) indicate that in 1990,
racial and ethnic minorities constituted 22% of the civilian labor force but
only 14% of the science and engineering labor force. Underrepresented minorities
(Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians ) represented 19% of the total labor
force and 8% of the science and engineering labor force. Asian Americans were
well represented in the science and engineering labor force, at 3% of the total
labor force and 6% of the science and engineering labor force. Women made up 46%
of the labor force in all occupations, but only 22% of the science and
engineering labor force.
In the year 2000, it is projected that 85% of new entrants to the workforce
in the United States will be females and members of minority groups. Based on
this percentage, the goal should be clear. Both groups should be represented in
the scientific and technology professions in proportion to their presence in the
population as a whole.
Although Blacks demonstrated significant progress during the decade from 1980
to 1990, in both science and math courses taken and in student achievement, they
continue to be underrepresented in the science and engineering labor forces.
Hispanics also remain underrepresented, with little progress being made during
the past decade (NSF, 1994). Limited statistics available on American Indians in
the labor force suggest that they too are underrepresented in science and
BARRIERS TO SUCCESS
Factors contributing to unequal
participation of minorities in science and mathematics education include
understaffed and under-equipped schools-usually found in minority
communities-tracking, judgments about ability, number and quality of science and
mathematics courses offered, access to qualified teachers, access to resources,
and curricula emphasis (NSF, 1996) Inequities in school funding can also
highlight the social context of schooling. Schools, particularly secondary
schools, in urban areas with a high proportion of economically disadvantaged or
a high proportion of minority students offer less access to science and
According to NSF (1996), being labeled by ability is very important to
student achievement because teachers tend to have different expectations of
students in the various groups. Teachers of "high-ability" classes are more
likely than those of "low-ability" classes to emphasize the development of
reasoning and inquiry skills. Students in "low-ability" classes are more likely
to read from a textbook and spend time doing worksheet problems and less likely
to be asked to write reasoning about solving a mathematics problem and
participate in hands-on science activities.
Minority students also have less access to qualified teachers. Math classes
with higher proportions of minorities are less likely than those with lower
proportions of minorities to have teachers with majors in the mathematics.
The instructional emphasis in largely minority classes are likely to differ
as well. The teachers in science and mathematics classes having a high minority
enrollment are more likely to emphasize preparing students for standardized
tests and are less likely than those in classes having fewer minority students
to emphasize preparing students for further study in science or mathematics.
All too often, at the elementary school level, usually around the middle
school grades, many students, especially minority students, learn to dislike or
fear science and mathematics and take only the minimum required courses in these
subjects at the junior and senior high school levels. The damage done is
incalculable. They emerge from elementary and secondary schools without an
adequate grounding in science and mathematics. Even if they become interested in
the subjects in later grades, it is often too late to take the courses necessary
to pursue careers in the fields of science and mathematics in college.
TRANSFORMING TEACHING AND LEARNING
To ensure that all
students receive an appropriate, high-quality science and mathematics education,
measures should be taken by educators to ensure that underrepresented minorities
have improved opportunities and greater encouragement to participate fully in
science and mathematics education. Curricular and instructional methodologies
need to be updated to include cooperative learning and accommodate alternative
learning styles. The science program should be designed to foster enthusiasm,
interest, and competence both for pursuing careers in the field and for the
acquisition of skills and knowledge demanded by an increasingly technological
SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHERS
For effective science and
mathematics teaching, the teacher should:
*Incorporate manipulative materials and hands-on
activities as regular instructional strategies. Provide opportunities for
students to engage in problem-solving inquiry-based activities.
high expectations in science and mathematics for all students.
and challenge all students. Provide experience that will challenge the students
all students in classroom activities and discussions. Present science as a
subject that everyone can learn.
a variety of teaching styles and strategies. Modify and adapt materials and
learning to allow the fullest possible participation of all students.
opportunities for students to learn how science and mathematics are applicable
to daily living and valuable to future education and employment. Encourage all
students to apply classroom learning to practical situations. Also, help
students connect life experiences to learning experiences.
provisions for as much individualization as possible. Provide cooperative
learning activities that will provide students opportunities to associate with
each other, learn from each other, and gain respect for each other.
appropriate role models in career exploration activities.
parents' interest in promoting science and mathematics.
It is important for teachers to help students develop to their maximum
potentials by involving them in classroom experiences that will (a) challenge
them intellectually, and (b) prepare them for a life of continuous learning.
Without sufficient instruction, many students, whether they are slow learners,
average, gifted, or from other exceptional groups, will show little interest in
science and mathematics. They will eventually "turn off" to science and
mathematics and never realize their potential in these subjects.
There are several things that every
parent should know about science and mathematics classes. Among them are:
support and encouragement, all students can perform well in science and
students should take science and mathematics courses every year.
learn science best through hands-on experiences.
Here are ways parents can guide children toward excellence in science and
involved in creative educational programs in the community. (a) Visit the
museum. There are a variety of exhibits and classes held for children and their
parents at museums. (b) Check local colleges and universities for summer science
and mathematics programs or information about science and mathematics programs
for school-age children. There are several National Science Foundation (NSF)
funded programs designed to help children develop an understanding of science
and mathematics. These programs emphasize "hands-on" experimentation and
children to read about science. Check the local library for books about science
and easy-to-do science projects.
science TV with children. There are several good science programs on television,
such as National Geographic Specials, NOVA, Nature, and Bill Nye-The Science
Guy, designed specifically for children. As parents watch with their children,
they should help them ask questions and understand the concepts presented.
for items for home science. Go to museums and bookstores and look at science
books for children. Look for books that have science activities in them.
natural curiosity. Share informal education activities frequently through visits
to zoos, museums, and local high technology companies. Go to toy stores and look
for games that encourage children to think, ask questions, test solutions, etc.
All students, minority students in particular, need to know the importance of
science and mathematics in their daily lives. Knowledge of these subjects help
them to develop intellectually and socially. Science is a way of thinking, a way
of understanding the world. Minority students need to understand that early
involvement with the substance of science and mathematics can open gates for
them into all the domains of knowledge and employment. Science and mathematics
are shaping the future; studying these subjects prepares them for a place in
Teachers are called on to provide quality
education to all children and prepare them to live and work in a world
transformed by rapid growth in new technologies, international competitiveness,
economic globalization, and increasing demographic shifts. Americans must become
aware that future shortfalls of scientists and engineers can only be met by
bringing minorities into the pool of science and mathematics majors. As a new
century approaches, the promise made by America and articulated by Franklin D.
Roosevelt over a half century ago must be reclaimed: "We seek to build an
America where no one is left out." America must ensure that all children receive
a quality education and have access to economic opportunities (Quality Education
for Minority Project, 1990).
Clark, J.V. (1996). "Redirecting science
education: Reform for a culturally diverse classroom." Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
Hodgkinson, H.L. (1992). "A demographic look at tomorrow." Washington, DC:
Institute for Education Leadership, Center for Demographic Policy.
National Science Foundation. (1994). "Women, minorities, and persons with
disabilities in science and engineering," Washington, DC.
Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network. (1990). "Education that
works: An action plan for the education of minorities." Cambridge: MIT, QEM
Force on Women and the Handicapped in Science and Technology. (1988, September).
"Changing America: The new face of science and engineering (Interim report)."
WORLD WIDE WEB RESOURCES
Quality Education for Minorities Network
Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
SUMMA (Strengthening Underrepresented Minority Mathematics Achievement
(SUMMA) Program of the Mathematical Association of America)