The next generation of STEM leaders, educators, researchers and policymakers must have equitable access to resources in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is imperative that students in STEM-related programs are not marginalized by misguided and antiquated stereotypes and that all institutions of learning and school districts are transparent in their efforts to fight for social justice and equitable programs in education.
Southern Oregon University (SOU) offers a Master of Science in Education with a Concentration in Curriculum and Instruction in STEM Education online program dedicated to the increasing intentionality that school districts need to provide the level of access all students deserve. For decades, the classics and social sciences have been labeled as non-negotiables, but math, science and technology studies are equally as crucial in this modern world.
How Can Educators and School Districts Provide Equity in STEM Education?
Here are five strategies for educators to consider.
- EmpowermentThe International Journal of STEM Education published an article titled “Equity-Oriented Conceptual Framework for K-12 STEM Literacy” in 2021. This framework notes that the allocation and transparency of STEM programs on all campuses must be reformed to achieve unconditional equality. The authors of this framework focus on “fostering STEM literacy in each and every student, from all backgrounds, so they … are empowered to develop foundational knowledge in STEM, no matter whether or not they pursue a STEM career.” It is preemptive empowerment.
- MicroaffirmationsThe American Association of Colleges & Universities suggests eliminating micromessages that keep STEM-related programs from reaching underrepresented populations. Educators can unconsciously make statements or take actions that undermine inclusivity efforts in the STEM fields. These unintentional actions can range from a counselor’s lack of awareness of enrollment to a teacher who forms groups in the classroom based on stereotypes about race, ethnicity or gender.
To ensure access, equity and diversity in primary, secondary and postsecondary education, the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) is working to implement its program across several American campuses, to counteract damaging micromessages with microaffirmations that validate others in positive and supportive ways. NAPE reports that a cumulative pattern of affirming messages can “encourage and improve performance.”
- Good TeachersSeveral factors contribute to student success and campus effectiveness. However, one element remains constant in all circumstances: good teachers. In 2016, the Center for Public Education published a brief titled Educational Equity: What does it mean? How do we know when we reach it? The Center found that “the impact of high-performing teachers has been shown to be similar regardless of school characteristics, making teacher quality a major element in equity plans.”
The need to recruit, keep and support good teachers extends to STEM department heads, assistant principals and school districts. The CPE provides evidence that high graduation rates still show demographic gaps. The brief notes that “our poorest students are nearly four times as likely to fail in math than their wealthiest peers … to close the achievement gap completely, we must address current inequities in funding, access to high-level curriculum, access to good teachers, and how school discipline is imposed.” Educators can play an important role in all four of these aspects.
- The Learning EnvironmentThe International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) recommends approaching STEM teaching by learning how to use a culturally responsive pedagogy. Building a classroom where everyone feels welcome can be a challenge for teachers still gaining experience in diverse environments. ISTE notes that technology has “delivered the means to provide more culturally relevant instruction.”
For science education, teachers can better engage students through experiential or scenario-based learning both in the classroom and outside. Taking this approach can help level the playing field for students who struggle with book-based learning. Scenario-based learning can also help students grasp math concepts better than memorization.
- The Equalizing of OpportunitiesA Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, published by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, offers a vision for K-12 science education and strategies for realizing the vision. The book notes that “the lack of science instruction in early elementary school grades may mean that only students with sources of support for science learning outside school are being brought into that long-term developmental process; this gap initiates inequalities that are difficult to remediate in later schooling.” The ability for a young child to use creativity to solve STEM-related challenges is at its best in the primary years.
According to STEM Teaching Tools, equity is central to educational improvement efforts. The site quotes from the National Research Council’s framework for K-12 science education: “Equity in science education requires that all students are provided with equitable opportunities to learn science and become engaged in science and engineering practices.”
The curriculum for SOU’s online degree program prepares educators for leadership roles as STEM teachers or curriculum specialists in PK-20 and informal education systems. The program includes courses like Science and the Young Child and Current Issues and Methods in STEM Education, giving educators the knowledge and instructional strategies that will help them promote equity and create inclusive learning environments.