New Study Confirms Racial and Ethnic Disparities Develop Before Kindergarten

Written by: Reagan Flowers, Ph.D.

It is more important than ever to addressing disparities early on in a child’s education is re-affirmed with a new study revealing drastic racial and ethnic learning gaps as early as kindergarten. The research found achievement at 13%-16% for White kindergartners displayed advanced science or mathematics versus just 3%-4% of Black or Hispanic students. The study also found that economic and educational policies designed to increase racial and ethnic representation in STEM courses, degree completion, and the workforce affirms my understanding that we must begin in elementary school, Pre-Kindergarten to be exact.

Disparities continue to increase throughout elementary school. By fifth grade, 13% of White students and 22% of Asian students display advanced math skills, while only 2% of Black and 3% of Hispanic students do so. The numbers look similar for advanced science skills. I have always shared that a student will either find success with learning or not in the second grade, a pivotal year of learning in elementary school.

A Comprehensive Look at Early Learning Gaps

We have long known when it comes to engaging students in STEM learning activities, the earlier, the better. However, up to now, few studies have looked at disparities as early as kindergarten.

The referenced study looked at the achievement of nearly 11,000 students. Factors that created disparities are similar to those seen with older students, including higher likelihood of being economically disadvantaged, challenges with bilingual learners who have a language other than English spoken at home, and lack of learning opportunities at home and school. Girls and students with disabilities face additional challenges.

Challenges Open the Way for Opportunity

The facts presented are eye-opening and disheartening. It is sad and unfair that children at the tender age of five or six, through no fault of their own, are falling behind their peers. However, the good news is that students at this age have their whole educational and professional careers ahead of them if we can achieve something as simple of providing them the education they deserve.

The younger the child, the more they respond as a sponge, soaking in all learning opportunities. Now that the facts are out there, we can focus on providing advanced options as early as possible. It is also an opportunity to help students identify their strengths within STEM as soon as they enter the school system. Understanding that early on, some students may demonstrate stronger interest or ability in math, while others may thrive in science or technology. Imagine how exciting it would be for every student, regardless of background, to have access to vast opportunities out the gate, just like their peers, to identify their strengths.

It starts at home with parents and moves forward with engaged teachers and programs like those in our C-STEM community. Continuing to be advocates and champions for those not aware is mission critical. It’s easy for those working hard to provide for their children to assume they can catch up in school later. This new research confirms that this is much easier said than done, especially for Black, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, female, and disabled students. You can start by sharing this article via email or social media. Together, we can help all children have equal access to high quality learning and find long-term success in communication, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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11th Annual State of STEM Education Stakeholder Breakfast

Please join us at The Junior League of Houston from 7:30-9:00 AM