A new survey gives the K-12 education system poor grades for “engaging and nurturing” minorities and girls—a D and a D-plus, respectively—in the pursuit of careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Respondents to the poll of female and minority chemistry professionals also believe science teachers play a larger role than parents and others in inspiring an interest in science. Seventy percent said teachers have the most influence at the elementary level, and nearly 90 percent said teachers have the most influence at the high school level.
“If we want to achieve true diversity in America’s STEM workforce, we must first understand the root causes of underrepresentation and the ongoing challenges these groups face,” Gregory S. Babe, the president and chief executive officer of the Bayer Corp., which sponsored the survey, said in a press release.
The survey results, released last week, were based on a survey of 1,226 female and “underrepresented minority” chemists and chemical engineers who are members of the American Chemical Society. They included white and Asian women, as well as African-American, Hispanic, and American-Indian men and women. Conducted by the Pittsburgh-based research firm Campos Inc., the survey has a statistical reliability of plus or minus 3 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.
Nearly two-thirds of those polled said underrepresentation of women and minorities exists in the companies and organizations for which they work. About 40 percent of the respondents said they had been discouraged from pursuing a STEM career, with college being the place where 60 percent experienced that attitude, followed by 41 percent indicating high school, and 35 percent naming the workplace.
One white, female midcareer scientist said in the survey: “I was told at one point that I was a token and that I would never make it. I knew Id have to work extra hard to be three times as good to be respected.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 31, 2010 edition of Education Week as Schools Get D’s on Spurring STEM Diversity