It is widely acknowledged that the U.S. public education system has failed a large segment of urban youth. According to the Education Trust1, for every 100 African American kindergartners, only 88 will graduate from high school and only 16 will finish college. Worse still, only 63 of every 100 Latino kindergartners will complete high school, and only 10 will graduate from college. As discouraging as these projections are, an even smaller fraction of minority high school graduates will possess the academic skills needed for careers in science and engineering. Only 1 in 30 Latino and 1 in 100 African American seventeen year olds can comfortably solve multi-step mathematics problems or do elementary algebra, compared with 1 in 10 Caucasian high school graduates.

Researchers looking at the longitudinal "blockages" in the educational pipeline have zeroed in on the middle school years as pivotal for facilitating later success2. Indeed, the compounding forces of peer influence, gender role identities, and impersonal school structure combine with physiological changes associated with the onset of puberty to discourage many children from identifying with academic success. The resultant identity crisis influences choices that could hinder requisite academic preparation for the college track. It is at this critical developmental juncture--the middle school years--that MIT's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Program aims its efforts.

1 Haycock, K. (2001). Closing the achievement gap: Helping all students to achieve. Educational Leadership, 58(3). Washington, DC: The Education Trust.

2 Stipek, D. J. (1984). The development of achievement motivation. Research on Motivation in Education, Student Motivation, Volume 1, 145-173.


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