Saturday, May 21, 2016

Chapter I. Introductory Justification

There is much debate about public education in the United States. From John Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1997) to Paolo Freire’s Education for Critical Consciousness (2005) to Geoffrey Canada and Waiting for Superman (2010), educators and critics have tried to understand how a system is unable to adequately service all students. A racial gap is apparent when one looks at the achievement of White students compared to the achievement (or rather underachievement) of those marginalized such as African-American and Hispanic students. What has become known, and to a degree accepted as the opportunity gap, can unfortunately predict a child’s success in public education based solely on skin color.

Background of the Problem

Many of STEM initiatives appear to be working; between 2002 and 2012, the number of graduate students in STEM classes grew 35%. However, the majority of this growth is comprised of White males and non-White students are vastly underrepresented in STEM classes (Gonzalez & Kuenzi, 2012). Racism and prejudice are pervasive in our society. Schools, and classrooms in particular, are accurate representations of students’ worlds, making “STEM disciplines representative of the gated community because of its elitism” (Cobb & Haynes, 2016, p. 285). It is this gatekeeper mentality that perpetuates systemic racism determining who can and should participate in STEM. This is why it is so important to counter that narrative that STEM is only for “White people” (Delpit, 2012, p. 14), replacing it with one that redefines “what it means to be both [a] racially conscious and an effective teacher to the benefit of all students” (Cobb & Haynes, 2016, p. 284). Students of color do not have equal access to STEM programs in public elementary schools. As the demographics of American students become increasingly diverse racially and ethnically, it is imperative that American educators must work to engage students from all backgrounds in STEM education. For example, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, students of color in the United States represent 50.3 percent of the total student population (Maxwell, 2014, pp. 14-15).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of our research was to ascertain what practices are in place for recruiting and engaging students of color in STEM curricula, as well as recommendations for creating a culturally relevant school culture (e.g.: an effective learning organizations). We are highlighting critical practices already happening in elementary schools that promoted diversity in its participating student body. This was completed through researching schools and districts’ current STEM practices and the impact those practices have on students of color’s participation and academic growth in STEM subjects. I believe that STEM education is the tipping point in this long struggle for equitable access and educational outcomes for students of color. I believe that ALL students should have access to an education of their own design for their own purposes, which represents their culture, heritage, race, and ethnicity. Our research team focused our study on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) equity and access to STEM content. Specifically, we researched STEM curricular activities in the elementary grades (K5) because research shows that it is in these early years, students of color find their natural interest in STEM content supported or discouraged. We believe in using conscious, anti-racist dialogue among staff that will sustain and deepen authentic understanding about systemic racism in relation to STEM curriculum. I researched what school structures are currently in place in the various school districts available through C-PEER, which support students of color in STEM curricular areas. I also observed successful components are available in elementary STEM programs. Current research literature sheds light on the narrative of systemic racism in schools and how STEM education and White racial knowledge can be used to narrow the opportunity gap for marginalized students. It is the intent of this doctoral dissertation study to not only add to the current literature, but to suggest practical suggestions for teachers, administrators, district leaders, and policy makers to create equal educational STEM opportunities for students of color.

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