The Challenge of Creating Equity in Science Education
I must preface this piece with honesty. It was difficult for me to pull my thoughts together to write. I am aware of the fragile state of our nation with so many incidents of injustice, white privilege and racism televised to make the public aware of the continued inequities in our society. In a hope to create an America of equality, we, as a nation, have worked really hard not to offend “others”. When I say “others”, I mean the different groups of people who have felt neglected, negated and punished for not fitting into the picturesque image of being an “American” that has been sensationalized by mainstream and social media. When we revert to the declarations of our forefathers of this country, the opportunity has reignited itself to address the reality that our forefathers created a document framed in biased ideologies. The definition of being “created equal” was limited to white men of financial means. It is 2021 and many people have the courage, the voice and the platform to speak to the holistic matter that individuals and organizations must become self-reflective practitioners and conscientious reformists to take on the challenges of creating equity in our society, our communities, and our educational system and specifically, in science education.
It's February 2021 and as we celebrate Black History Month, we still have the need to celebrate “black history” because our country still does not want to confront the issues of racism in our society. The challenge of creating equity in science education becomes a minor concern when the elephant in the room is the issue that America has been afraid to address racism in its totality for too long. On January 6, 2021, domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. As this treacherous ordeal was taking place on televisions across our country, my heart wept. So many thoughts crossed my mind -- from the massive issues of racism in America to the work we volunteer to do to help create an equitable, engaging space for minority students to learn science. Our work to create equity in science education will not come to fruition, until us, as educators, recognize and realize that the work starts from within. Are we truly ready to look ourselves in the mirror and ask tough questions that go to the root of our beliefs about how we think about all people, whether black, white, Hispanic, Indian, male, female, rich, poor, disabled, or gifted? There are other groups to list, but in an effort to not offend, please note that I am speaking of and to anyone who feels that they have not been represented with dignity. I am speaking of and to anyone who believes that they do not have a seat at the table of decision – making. I invite you to pull up your own chair because your thoughts are valued and your input wanted.
For any conversation to begin, we must have clarity so I always like to start with an operational definition of words. As we speak of diversity, equity and inclusion, let us determine their context. Diversity refers to the demographic subgroups within educational institutions. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) released in April 2013 identified student diversity, through seven case studies noted in Appendix D – “All Standards, All Student: Making the Next Generation Science Standards Accessible to All Students. The four accountability groups defined in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 and the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA], Section 1111(b)(2)(C)(v):
- Economically disadvantaged students,
- Students from major racial and ethnic groups,
- Students with disabilities, and
- Students with limited English proficiency.
- Further, student diversity is extended by adding three groups:
- Students in alternative education programs, and
- Gifted and talented students
Again, this listing of groups is not exclusive. Remember that these parameters were derived from science instructional colleagues to help us collect data. All students matter when it comes to science literacy. Next, we will define equity. Equity is the intentional consideration, formulation and implementation of practices, policies and procedures within an organization to deter systemic biases that can hinder the measurable outcome of programming as well as create barriers that can affect student achievement within demographic subgroups in comparison to institutional expectations and performance standards. Equity fosters accountability between stakeholders involved in the decision-making process and those designated to perform within the organization. When conversations pivoted from equality to equity is when the band-aids of practices that allowed diverse groups to feel tolerated came off. A conscientious, equitable mindset is what will begin the reform of structural, procedural and programmatic infrastructures that will desegregate and reverse bias implications of practice. In order to tangibly alleviate the challenge of creating equity in science education means self-reflection and corporate reflection by asking some tough, fundamental questions and considering the application of the A-List Approach© to this dilemma by:
- Assessing the entire system of focus (i.e. science education) without bias or barriers.
- Address the pros and cons of the system.
- Alter the system by redesigning a plan of action.
- Activate the plan of action.
- Assess again and again to ensure accountability.
This mind shift is applicable to life. The point of the matter is that we must all develop a conscientious intentionality to be inclusive instead of exclusive. Inclusion is an opportunity to reach all stakeholders by consciously being mindful of their needs. Inclusion promotes analysis and evaluation in order to determine needs. Our personal philosophy of how we interpret life changes because we are now formatting our minds to conscientiously and intentionally identify factors and barriers that would cause any person to ‘not be successful’ in our great land of opportunity and freedom.
Creating equity in science education is a ginormous undertaking. As scientists, we thrive in data. The challenge is reminding decision-makers that people…our students, are the deliverable outcome of the curriculum we develop, time we invest, budgets we anticipate and futures that we hold in the palm of our hands. Every decision we make determines the destiny of a child. We must take the blinders off, remove bias, prejudice and racism from the equations that we formulate in our society to ensure that all students have the same opportunity to excel and contribute to our America.
Author: Dr. Sharon Delesbore is the president of the Association for Multicultural Science Education (AMSE), an affiliate organization of the National Science Teaching Association. AMSE was organized to stimulate and promote science teaching to students of culturally diverse backgrounds and to motivate such students to consider science-related careers; to explore and promote the improvement of science curriculum, educational systems and teaching methods in school to assist such stimulation; to recruit and involve teachers of all minorities in science education and to initiate and to engage in activities and programs in furtherance of improving the science education of culturally diverse students.