Research News

Kirchgasler examines tools that can inadvertently exacerbate racial disparities in science education

November 29, 2017

The research of UW-Madison’s Kathryn Kirchgasler that examines the racialized history of U.S. science education was recently featured in a news report from the University of Kansas.

Kirchgasler is a Ph.D. candidate with the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. While completing her dissertation, Kirchgasler has started working as a lecturer with the University of Kansas’ Department of Curriculum and Teaching.

The news report notes how Kirchgasler has been studying how U.S. students have been separated into different levels of science classes for more than a century and how research and standardized testing have perpetuated inequalities.

Some of Kirchgasler’s research appears as a chapter in the 2017 book, “A Political Sociology of Educational Knowledge: Studies of Exclusions and Difference,” which is co-edited by UW-Madison’s Thomas Popkewitz.

Popkewitz is a professor with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and is co-advising Kirchgasler, along with Noah Weeth Feinstein, who also is a faculty member with the department.

In the book chapter, the KU News Service explains how Kirchgasler looks at the history of methods to determine which students were “fit” for certain science classes by analyzing a major science education journal, General Science Quarterly, published from 1916 to 1929. Kirchgasler found that the general science course spreading across the U.S. at the time was designed in part to “Americanize” children from
 populations regarded as “unscientific.”

“Dividing students by assumed capability and needs links back to a racialized history in U.S. schooling,” Kirchgasler tells the KU News Service. “Cultural assumptions get built into the psychological tools, data and algorithms we use to sort students today.”

To learn more much more about this nuanced topic, check out the entire KU News Service report here.