- Year 2019
- NSF Noyce Award # 1540591
- First Name Rebekka
- Last Name Darner
- Discipline Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Geosciences, Math, Other: technology, Physics
Willy J. Hunter, Illinois State University, firstname.lastname@example.org; Tony Lorsbach, Illinois State University, email@example.com
Rebekka Darner, Illinois State University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Opportunity and achievement gaps that begin in K-12 grades result in systematic under-representation by women and some ethnic minorities in science disciplines. Opportunity gaps arise as a result of five concordant phenomena (Milner, 2012): 1. Teachers attempt to adopt a color-blind perspective and/or context-neutral mindsets when teaching students with whom they do not identify, 2. Cultural conflicts exist between the school and home cultures, 3. The myth of meritocracy is perpetuated in school culture, 4. Teachers hold lower expectations for some student groups compared to others, and 5. When teachers have a deficit mindset toward some groups of students. The teacher preparation programs at our institution require attention to be paid to these issues in a single course that addresses the ‘social foundations of education.’ There is no coursework for preservice science teachers in which they learn about the specific challenge of STEM achievement gaps.
The theoretical framing of this course combines Milner’s depiction of opportunity gaps as sources of achievement gaps (Milner, 2012), and Ladson-Billing’s (1995) culturally relevant pedagogy. By adopting Milner’s (2012) perspective, we acknowledge that achievement gaps are not an indication that some student groups are inherently less than others, but rather that achievement gaps are symptoms of the differential distribution of privilege across student groups in an educational system that suffers from institutionalized racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism. Nonetheless, teachers, as actors in this system, have agency, or the potential capacity to act in ways that undermine opportunity gaps to some extent. To do so, we argue that preservice teachers must become culturally relevant pedagogues, which is the primary goal of the presented course. The guiding question motivating this presentation is: What aspects of the course and Noyce scholars’ experiences fostered teacher agency toward closing opportunity and achievement gaps?
This course is offered as a 6-week online course, which is taken following a research internship, in which they were mentored by a faculty member in their primary discipline. The course requires students to read an article from the primary literature each week and answer several short essay questions. After submitting their first draft of essay questions, a recorded lecture on the material is released and the instructor provides feedback on their initial responses. Then students revise their original drafts, given the information in the lecture and instructor feedback. The first draft is graded for completion and effort, while the second draft is graded for accuracy and depth of knowledge demonstrated. Along with weekly reading/writing assignments, students participate in asynchronous discussions of the content, two group projects, and a final paper. All written work was qualitatively analyzed to identify patterns that coincided with greater STEM teacher agency in closing gaps.
Preliminary analyses indicate that a shared experience that leads to greater teacher agency to close STEM opportunity and achievement gaps among preservice STEM teachers is greater contact during pre-college years with members of ethnic minorities who may be have experienced the consequences of opportunity gaps. This finding raises the question of whether students who attend segregated schools, such as most schools in the US, will mature into STEM teachers who will work to close opportunity gaps. Analyses will be more complete before the conference, and additional findings will be shared.
STEM opportunity and achievement gaps are ubiquitous throughout the US education system, and STEM teachers are well positioned to close many, albeit not all opportunity gaps. The closing of opportunity gaps, over time could help put an end to the under-representation we currently observe in STEM fields. Thus, it is important to understand what pre-service experiences foster teacher agency to closing gaps, or if post-secondary experiences are moot, this research could inform toward whom STEM teacher recruitment should be directed, so as to recruit students who are likely to mature into teacher agents of change.