High quality STEM education remains evasive in American public school systems, and disproportionately so in districts serving minority and/or students from low-income families. Jagannathan and her colleagues from Rutgers University examined the impacts of one STEM enhancement program, Nurture thru Nature (NtN), in a randomized controlled study of more than 600 elementary school students over an 8 year period of program implementation. NtN was created through a partnership between Rutgers University, Johnson & Johnson (headquartered in New Brunswick, NJ), and the New Brunswick Public School district. It provides enrichment activities to students randomly selected by lottery to participate in the STEM program from fourth grade until high school graduation. NtN focuses on natural and environmental sciences in order to support students’ interest in STEM careers. Students meet twice per week for 3 hours during the year and 3 days per week for 7.5 hours during summer recess, incorporating garden and indoor lab experiences, STEM curriculum aligned with classroom teachers’ math and science instruction, as well as a commitment to parental involvement in students’ STEM education.
NtN began in 2010 with its first cohort of 19 students and steadily accumulated further cohorts as funding became available. Because of this, the analytic sample contains 630 students, with 139 students in the treatment group and 491 students in the control, with treatment students having differing levels of program exposure ranging from 2 to 8 years. Academic achievement, measured by students’ math and science grades, revealed that:
- NtN had an effect size of +0.43 on students’ math grades and +0.39 on students’ science grades (p<0.05).
- When considering both math and science grades over time, NtN students exhibited a much slower decline in grade performance.
- While control students saw an average science grade decline of -0.58 per year, NtN science grade decline occurred at an average rate of -0.15 per year.
The authors emphasize the importance of programming such as NtN for students’ success in math and science courses, thereby increasing the likelihood of STEM job opportunities for students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in STEM careers.
Source: Jagannathan, R., Camasso, M. J., & Delacalle, M. (2019). Promoting cognitive and soft skills acquisition in a disadvantaged public school system: Evidence from the Nurture thru Nature randomized experiment. Economics of Education Review, 70, 173–191. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2019.04.005