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A Descriptive Study of Pre-service Teachers' Perceptions of African American Students' Ability to Achieve in Mathematics and Science

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At least since 1977, African Americans have been underrepresented in science related careers. Although researchers have identified a number of factors which correlate with students' career decisions, they have failed to explain how these factors are related to race. Moreover, this body of research has failed to consider the role of mathematics and science teachers' perceptions of African-American students. This study identifies and describes perceptions held by 49 pre-service mathematics and science teachers about mathematics and science ability of African-American students. Data were collected by means of a three-part, open-ended questionnaire. Findings indicate that over one-third of pre-service teachers are unaware that African Americans achieve below their peers in mathematics and science; they overwhelmingly place culpability for African-American students' achievement with the students and their communities; and they are largely unable to identify culturally relevant teaching strategies to address African-American students' achievement.
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... The problem, which originally gave rise to this essay, is the low number of African American 1 students who pursue science-related careers. This problem has formed the core of my research agenda (Lewis, 1997;Lewis & Collins, 2001;Lewis & Connell, 2005;Lewis, Pitts, & Collins, 2002) for over 14 years and has been a subject of study for other social scientists at least since 1971 (e.g., Hager & Elton, 1971). Currently, African Americans comprise fewer than 2% of practicing, PhD-holding scientists. ...
... The first genre is disparity literature, wherein the science education of African Americans is almost singularly presented in terms of the disparity between African American students and their peers. Among this literature are reports, which document and draw attention to the disparity (e.g., Malcom, George, & Van Horne, 1996;National Science Board, 2000;Norman, Ault, Bentz, & Meskimen, 2001), empirical research aimed at explaining the disparity (e.g., Hager & Elton, 1971;Lewis et al., 2002), and descriptions of intervention efforts or policy changes that would ameliorate the disparity (e.g., Ellis, 1993;Maton, Hrabowski, & Schmitt, 2000;Seiler, 2001). ...
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The body of research aimed at explaining the science teaching and learning of African Americans has identified myriad factors that correlate with African American's science career choices and science performance generally. It has not, however, offered any satisfactory explanations as to why those factors are disproportionately racially determined. This article argues that the sociocultural construction of race, which has roots in antebellum Western society, has endured to the present day; and that there is sufficient historical tradition and empirical evidence to warrant a research agenda that accounts for the sociocultural construction of race in explaining African American science education. The article concludes by suggesting a set of research questions and theoretical perspectives that considers the sociocultural construction of race to guide future research. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 50:82–103, 2013
... These positionalities, as indicators of more deeply held beliefs about culturally diverse students and communities, can have significant implications for teaching. Beliefs about students could influence instructional decisions (Lewis, Pitts, and Collins 2002). Within an urban context with underperforming students, deficit beliefs could lead to instructional practices that exclude students from having access to high-quality learning opportunities (Richardson 1996). ...
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This study investigated the experiences of a group of pre-service secondary science teachers in learning to teach in culturally diverse contexts. The pre-service teachers were all assigned to placements within a large, urban, culturally diverse public high school and paired with mentor teachers. Through one-on-one interviews, the pre-service teachers were asked to recount and evaluate their experiences, as well as to respond to research-informed deficit beliefs about urban and culturally diverse students and communities. Through critical discourse analysis, the pre-service teachers were characterized as establishing particular positionalities in regards to learning to teach within the culturally diverse context of the high school. The pre-service teachers were, furthermore, characterized as establishing particular positionalities in regards to select deficit beliefs that were discussed in the interviews. The role of agency and institutional power structures in supporting or constraining the positionalities established by the pre-service teachers was also considered. Major implications from this study include the need for teacher education programs to address gaps between pedagogical theory and practice enacted or observed in classrooms; the need to facilitate stronger systems of support for pre-service teacher education from the school-based administration; and positionalities, as indicators of more deeply held beliefs, and how these beliefs may influence teaching and learning.
... Historically, scholarship on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education of African Americans has focused largely on the achievement disparity between African Americans and their non-African-American peers. (Cohen, Garcia, PurdieVaughns, Apfel, & Brzustoski, 2009;Lewis & Collins, 2001;Lewis, Pitts, & Collins, 2002;Lubienski, 2002;Maple & Stage, 1991). Some researchers have criticized this approach as a one-dimensional treatment that pathologizes African-American youth and emphasizes their perceived failure. ...
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The underachievement and underrepresentation of African Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines have been well documented. Efforts to improve the STEM education of African Americans continue to focus on relationships between teaching and learning and factors such as culture, race, power, class, learning preferences, cultural styles and language. Although this body of literature is deemed valuable, it fails to help STEM teacher educators and teachers critically assess other important factors such as pedagogy and curriculum. In this article, the authors argue that both pedagogy and curriculum should be centered on the social condition of African Americans – thus promoting mathematics learning and teaching that aim to improve African communities worldwide.
... With few exceptions (e.g. Contraras & Lee, 1990;Lewis, Pitts, & Collins, 2002), extant literature on African American science education fails to account for the social and historical influence of racism. What is especially problematic is that there is solid evidence from the broader body of scholarship that could be brought to bear on research in science education. ...
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Although there is a significant body of work that underscores the importance of pedagogy aimed at being responsive to students' unique racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, there is relatively little work that helps science practitioners to understand what this pedagogy looks like in practice. Drawing on Mutegi's (2011) description of socially transformative mathematics and science curriculum and Ladson-Billings' (1995) framing of culturally responsive pedagogy, this article describes a four-week summer science camp for African American adolescent males. The article employs the methodological approach of Critical Race Theory in order to illustrate for the reader what socially transformative and culturally relevant science instruction might look like in practice.
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Chapter
This chapter is a description of practice grounded in the idea that the primary problems Black children face in schools are political problems. The chapter articulates three aspects of science education that should be reconceptualized if we are to adequately address these problems. These three aspects are: the purpose of science education; science content; and the role of the instructor. The theoretical foundation for reconceptualizing these three aspects of science education comes from Goduka’s (2005) articulation of eZiko, Mutegi’s (2011) articulation of socially transformative STEM curriculum, and Codrington’s (2014) work on liberatory education. Drawing from this theoretical foundation, the chapter illustrates the how science educators could reconceptualize the purpose of science education, science content, and the role of the instructor by describing a year-long project in which three, high school-aged, young ladies and one university professor worked collaboratively as science writers. Through the Black Kids Read - Science Writers project, these young ladies took on the task of authoring science-oriented literature for elementary-aged children. [The book can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.3726/b14757].
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