More evidence of the opportunity gap: Pew Research reports interest in science varies by race, ethnicity

Pew Research reports on an issue of continuing state and national concern.

[A] majority of high school seniors in the U.S. say they enjoy science and around four-in-ten (44%) would like to have a job in the field, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). These sentiments, however, tend to vary by race and ethnicity – a pattern that also is reflected in American students’ test scores in science.

Previously, we’ve written about what many consider an “opportunity gap.” 

U.S. News reports that where we might have expected progress in closing demographic gaps, problems persist.

Gaps between men and women, and between whites and minorities, also remained entrenched. As the number of white students who earned STEM degrees grew 15 percent in the last five years, the number of black students fell by roughly the same margin, the index found.

Women’s interest in STEM also decreased slightly since last year.

According to the Pew report,

Recent studies paint a mixed picture of how U.S. students – not just high school seniors – are faring in science. Fourth- and eighth-graders, for example, have made gains since 2009, but test scores among 12th-graders have remained flat, according to the NAEP. And while some racial and ethnic performance gaps have narrowed over time, black and Hispanic students still score considerably lower than their Asian and Pacific Islander and white peers, regardless of grade level.

In recent years, there has been attention paid to racial and gender disparities in jobs tied to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Several industries, such as technologyand medicine, are openly looking for ways to diversify their ranks.

In our state, with unprecedented employment opportunities opening up in the next five years and one of the nation’s strongest tech economies, the challenge to close the opportunity gap and expand shared prosperity is important and the prospects for success should be high. One key will be fixing the “leaky pipeline” that sees too many students drop out before they complete high school. 

Of 80,700 students entering 9th grade, about one-quarter of them, 20,100 will drop out before graduation. Those students have a mountain to climb to reach a career job.  

Pew research associate Monica Anderson points out,

It’s worth noting that students’ fondness of science can be affected by many factors that are often interconnected with race and ethnicity. Those who voice a greater interest in the subject and a desire to work in the field tend to have higher science scores. Parental involvement, as well as a parents’ level of educational attainment, may be linked to how well children do on science assessments. And the availability of advanced science courses and socioeconomic factors also may play a role in cultivating a student’s interest and understanding of science.

Our roadmap for shared expanding the state’s culture of opportunity provides policy direction for making sure Washingtonians have the education, skills and career opportunities necessary to thrive and realize their virtually unlimited potential.