When children start kindergarten, sizable gaps in science knowledge already exist between whites and minorities—as well as between youngsters from upper-income and low-income families. And those disparities often deepen into significant achievement gaps by the end of eighth grade if they aren’t addressed during elementary school.
These are some of the findings in a new report by researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the University of California, Irvine. The study, published this week in an American Educational Research Association journal, tracked 7,757 children from the start of kindergarten to the end of eighth grade, providing a rare glimpse into the state of science knowledge of America’s youngest students.
The findings suggest that, in order for the United States to maintain long-term scientific and economic competitiveness in the world, policymakers need to renew efforts to ensure access to high-quality, early learning experiences in childcare settings, pre-schools, and elementary schools. In other words,waiting to address science achievement gaps in middle or high school may be too late.
“Unfortunately, as the United States experiences greater income inequality, science achievement gaps may be experienced by progressively larger percentages of children,” the report’s authors wrote. “[Those] with low levels of science achievement may be less able as adults to understand public-policy issues necessitating ever-greater scientific literacy and reasoning as well as experience lower employment and prosperity.”