Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Untapped Talent and Unlimited Potential: African American Students and the Science Pipeline

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Untapped Talent and Unlimited Potential: African American Students and the Science Pipeline

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Historically, lack of access to educational opportunities has been a constant and unfortunate reality for many African Americans. As a result of tracking and ability grouping many African American students lack the necessary accoutrement for persistence in the sciences. Some critical factors for the persistence and success of African American students in college science degree programs includes parental involvement, teacher expectations, increased numbers of science and mathematics courses, and advanced mathematics and science courses. Educational reform efforts need to be more aggressive towards detracking within schools or African American students in both rural and urban areas will continue to experience a curriculum that prepares them for "dead-end", low wage earning jobs with little long-term security or opportunity for upward mobility.

Historically, educational institutions in the United States of America were designed to prepare and educate citizens for intelligent and active participation in the American civic community (Giroux, 1983). Moreover, a brief history on the purpose and design of schools in the United States provides some insight into the reason schools seem to cater to a special cadre of people and limit the opportunities of students from oppressed and marginalized racial/ethnic groups (Brown, 2000). More specifically, African Americans in the United States have been traditionally denied equal access to educational opportunities as a result of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and institutional racism. The legacies of these practices undergird perceptions that many African Americans are intellectually inferior and adversely impact their opportunities to pursue and persist in science and science-related careers and professions. Scientific racism and segregationist ideologies have adversely impacted African Americans opportunities and access to valuable resources and knowledge necessary to pursue quantitative majors or the "hard sciences" (i.e., chemistry, physics, and biological sciences) (Bechtel, 1989).

In our more contemporary society, we have moved from "Jim Crow's" de jure (legal) segregation (Patterson, 2001; Irons, 2002) in education that followed the United States Supreme Court decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson 1896 to de facto segregation via tracking and ability grouping (Bowles, 1977; Oakes, 1985; Persell, 1977; Donelan, Neal, & Jones, 1994; Wheelock, 1992), which is often considered a type of "educational apartheid" in school systems across the United States. At the forefront of much educational discourse today is the vast and ever-widening "achievement gap" between African American students and Anglo-European or white students (Haycock, 2001; Hrabowski, 2002a; Jencks & Phillips, 1998). According to an analysis by Rodriguez (1997) of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, there is a considerable difference between the performance of African American students and white students. This achievement gap is more pronounced in the academic areas of science and mathematics (College Board, 1999). In addition, white and Asian/Pacific Islanders on average, performed higher on reading and mathematics standardized test in juxtaposition to African American, Latino/a, and other indigenous peoples (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003).

Fortunately, there are a number of researchers currently investigating factors that impact and enhance the recruitment, retention and participation of African American students in the fields of science, engineering, and mathematics (SEM) (Atwater, 2000; Brown, 2000; Connell & Lewis, 2003; Hrabowski & Maton, 1995; Hrabowski, Maton, & Greif, 1998; Hrabowski, Maton, Greene, & , Greif, 2002a; Hrabowski, 2002b; Lewis, 2003; Russell & Atwater, in press; Seiler, 2001; Smith & Hausafaus, 1998). Tracking, ability grouping practices, and standardized testing in American educational institutions today continue to subvert the efforts of curriculum reform and "mis-educate" many African Americans. …

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