To ensure the nation of a science-literate citizenry able to
make informed and reasoned decisions on economic, social and
environmental issues, as well as to preserve its global leadership in
science, all students require a good education in Earth and space
science before graduating from high school. There are, however, wide
disparities today in the quality of available Earth and space science
There are many reasons for this inequity. School systems in
economically disadvantaged communities may lack the resources to hire
skilled Earth and space science teachers. They also may be unable to
provide adequate Web access, books, and other tools and resources that
broaden and deepen Earth and space science education. Students in
minority groups based on race, ethnicity or gender lack role models in
the scientific community.
For many minorities, be they ethnic, physically challenged or
gender, the community itself does not nurture an awareness that they can
aspire to a career in science. Peer pressure, however subtle, negates
individual thinking that may assist a minority student from breaking out
of the mold. Opportunities for students to participate in hands-on,
inquiry-based science activities, including authentic research, can help
students envisage themselves as scientists.
Teachers, and not only science teachers, sometimes fail to
address various ways of thinking and problem solving that are part of
different cultural backgrounds. Many teachers are unaware that there are
other cognitive processes that are as successful as the Western model.
If teachers were better able to communicate with students in their own
form of understanding, there would be many more successful students.
Our vision of the state of Earth and space science education
ten years from now may seem optimistic, but with the proposed
recommendations in place, both short term and long terms goals can be
realistically met if we act now. We foresee fair accessibility to Earth
and space science education for all students by the year 2010.
Key components of this vision are:
availability of instruction that reflects cultural
perspectives related to Earth and space science within the classroom
the presence of qualified and diverse Earth and space science teachers within schools that serve target populations
an abundance of visible role models within media and schools
adequate infrastructure and resources for Earth and space
science education within schools that serve under-represented groups
(e.g. laboratory equipment, technology resources, access to field sites)
flexible and responsive criteria for institutions to access funds earmarked for equity and diversity projects.
To reach this vision, there are barriers in our educational
structures that must be overcome. A major one is the inequitable access
among schools to laboratory equipment and technology due to limited
funding resources. Some schools fail to provide access for students with
physical disabilities. Moreover, quality teachers are not equitably
distributed in our school systems. There are social barriers as well.
Our under-represented groups in the Earth and space science profession
are stretched too thin to be effective as role models to all but a few.
Emotional barriers to achieving our goals include science
phobia among certain groups and the tracking of many minority students
into lower-achieving classes or curricula. Such barriers occur in the
classroom and are known as the "Pygmalion effect"; this produces
inequality of education when an instructor's preconceived notions of who
is successful in science are made apparent to the students. Barriers
exist for the quality Earth and space science teachers as well. Many are
not aware of the resources available to them and their students; there
exist resources now that are specifically aimed at correcting the
inequalities of science education in our diverse society.
Certainly these problems of equity and diversity have been
explored in depth in numerous studies and reports, such as the National
Science Foundation (NSF) Report on Diversity in Geoscience (1999). There
also have been several important initiatives to promote diversity in
science education in general and/or Earth and space science in
particular, such as the NSF Urban Systemic Initiatives, the American
Geophysical Union (AGU) Diversity Session (EOS Transactions 2000), AGI
Minority Participation Project and the EPA Watershed Manual and
curriculum for native American tribes, and teacher training in
overcoming gender issues in the sciences. Our recommendations build on
insights gained from these and other research and implementation
Equity and Diversity Recommendations
Federal and state funding agencies should support
professional development and teacher preparation in equity and diversity
issues related to Earth and space science education.
These should include local and regional cultural approaches
to science, to the Earth and to problem solving. These efforts should be
in concert with initiatives detailed in the Professional Development
section of this report.
The diversity and quality of K-12 Earth and space science educators should be increased.
Potential Earth and space science teachers from
under-represented groups should be identified and retained through
"bridge" projects that follow students from high school through
baccalaureate degree. Professional societies should establish
documentation on the qualifications and diversity of Earth and space
science teachers, and set benchmarks for improvement. Education
institutions serving under-represented populations should be encouraged
to, and assisted in, establishing and maintaining educational programs
in the Earth and space science, including teacher certification.
A community of Earth and space science educators interested in equity and diversity should be established and maintained.
The diversity working group within the Digital Library for
Earth System Education (DLESE) and special sessions on equity and
diversity during Earth and space science professional society meetings
will establish the nexus of the group. The community should ensure broad
membership through robust outreach to all potential stakeholders, such
as the National Association of Black Geologists and Geophysicists,
National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, Society
for Advancement of Chicano and Native American Scientists, and the
American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
Exemplary materials focusing on place-based (e.g. urban)
connections to Earth and space science should be developed and
Earth and space science can be wrongly perceived as a field
of study more appropriate for students in areas close to natural
environments than for urban students. This is certainly not the case, as
all regions, especially urban areas, are closely connected to the
natural environment. For example, the characteristics of the land under
and around cities are critically important for defining and shaping
them. Major construction projects in urban areas call for deep
understanding of the underlying bedrock. Cities are often located near
rivers, and have to struggle with issues of water supply, water quality
and waste management. Therefore we recommend development of exemplary,
inquiry-based materials that feature the connection of Earth and space
science to urban environments. This will help make Earth and space
science more relevant, engaging and interesting to students in urban
schools who often are from minority and under-represented groups.
Research on Earth and space science equity and diversity
programs and on differing cultural perspectives in Earth and space
science should be compiled and future research needs identified.
This is an immediate need that will inform longer-term
efforts. NSF should sponsor a review project in conjunction with the
Diversity Initiative in Geoscience Education project. New equity and
diversity projects should conduct appropriate project evaluation and
disseminate results in order to inform other practitioners.