As recently as 2018, a quarter of U.S. high schools with the highest percentage of Black and Latinx students did not offer Algebra II, a prerequisite for many higher-level STEM courses and the key barrier to college graduation for most Americans, and a third of these schools did not offer chemistry. Black and Latinx students are often denied access to limited seats in advanced courses, particularly in racially diverse schools where they are not the majority. STEM curricula and materials prioritize the stories of STEM contributions made by white men, and minimize, omit, or perpetuate harmful stereotypes about the knowledge and history of STEM leaders of color. More than half of U.S. school districts, and more than 90 percent of districts primarily serving Black and Latinx students, reported difficulties recruiting and retaining certified, knowledgeable STEM teachers.
As a nation, we are actively discouraging students of color to seek a quality STEM education.
This is a moral problem, and it’s also an existential one: Our most pressing challenges — from climate change, to health, to economic growth — and our most potent opportunities require problem-solving skills rooted in STEM. Ten of the top 14 fastest-growing industries require some kind of STEM training. Yet according to a team led by Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist and director of Opportunity Insights, we’re losing innovators and their breakthroughs every day, because people who could “have had highly impactful innovations” aren’t being given the opportunities they deserve.
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