Are We Really Teaching Our Children Science?

Unlike in the Philippines, young children have science as a formal subject in US schools. In addition, the new Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS-K:2011) provides data regarding science achievement in these early years for kindergarten and first grade students in the US. A recent examination of this data by Curran and Kellogg suggests a significant science achievement gap with African, Hispanic and Asian American children falling behind White children. Socio-economic status and achievement gaps in both math and reading apparently cannot fully explain this science achievement gap therefore indicating that schools are failing to teach science to these Black, Hispanic and Asian children.

Above copied from
F. Chris Curran and Ann T. Kellogg. Understanding Science Achievement Gaps by Race/Ethnicity and Gender in Kindergarten and First Grade. Educational Researcher June/July 2016 45: 273-282, first published on June 21, 2016 doi:10.3102/0013189X16656611
The Asian-White gap is particularly disconcerting since Asian children generally score better than Whites in both reading and math as shown in the above figure. Furthermore, Curran and Kellogg have also found significant contributions to this gap coming from school factors. Teaching science requires effective and knowledgeable teachers. Unfortunately, the gaps seen only insinuate that good science teachers may not be uniformly distributed across schools in the US coupled with an increasing segregation of schools. Schools with a majority of white children get good teachers while schools attended by Blacks, Hispanics and Asians do not.

The science gaps in the early grades are actually greater than the math and reading gaps. Both Hispanic-White and Asian-White gaps decrease in the higher elementary grades presumably because of the student becoming more fluent in English and greater content teaching in the sciences beyond first grade, but the Black-White gap remains large.

Although everyone seem to agree that science education is important especially in this 21st century, greater attention has always been given to achievement gaps in math and reading. The facts that science achievement gaps are bigger and that these gaps go far beyond socioeconomic status should really bring us to ask ourselves if we are indeed giving every child in the US the opportunity to be their best.